“Psychologists and psychiatrists are telling us today that the more we hate, the more we develop guilt feelings and we begin to subconsciously repress or consciously suppress certain emotions, and they all stack up in our subconscious selves and make for tragic, neurotic responses.” -MLK
On November 17th of the year 1957 Reverend King gave a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In the midst of the civil rights struggle between people of color and oppressive groups in the United States, he advocated for compassion, empathy, and unconditional love. Today we analyze this speech and break down the 5 basic recommendations Dr. King offers in order to love your enemy.
1. Analyze your Self.
“There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.” Dr. King insinuates that none of us are perfect, and so we are in no place to rank the imperfections of others as more evil than the imperfections inside of us. When we come to understand this, we see that we cannot hate our enemy.
2. Discover the element of good.
“Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.” The more you recognize positive aspects of this person, the easier it becomes to see how the good can outweigh the bad.
3. Don’t do anything to embarrass them.
When you have the chance to defeat your enemy, Dr. King advises against it because violence and hate is a downward spiral – a never-ending abyss of tragedy with no light of hope in sight. “Love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative…” Dr. King knew that active goodwill is the ultimate form of love. So, wish the best for your enemy. Speak well of them, even if they do not speak well of you. Dr. King encouraged the congregation to harness the Greek word agape. He described it as “the love of God working in the lives of men.”
4. Transform your enemies.
“At the very root of love is the power of redemption.” Your enemy will react to your unconditional love at first strangely confused, maybe violent. But after an undetermined amount of time, they will remember your kindness and break down under their own guilt and be transformed.
5. Organize mass non-violent resistance.
Dr. King warned that when we give in to the temptation of violence, “unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness.” Here, he directly referenced the civil rights struggle. Although widely known as the main proponent of nonviolent protest, this idea goes a bit deeper into explaining a fraction of the argument behind refraining from hate. When we think about the consequences of using violence, and the unfairly large populations of civilians who will be affected, love emerges as superior.
Hating our enemy only harms us. Perhaps a small change in our mentality and our views of others can spark a bigger change beyond our understanding.
You can read along and listen to the entire sermon here.