The Often Unappreciated Value of an Enemy

By “enemy” I mean the person or persons other than us who we feel or think are hurting us or, at the least, wishing us ill. Also, an enemy can refer to something bigger than persons, such as a whole nation or group of nations—which I hope to be able to talk about later in this post—but what I have in mind when thinking about how valuable an enemy can be are more or less limited to dynamics that arise from interpersonal relations. If we suspect that the enemy is so driven by hate that he or she wants us physically dead, that can be addressed by another article, but probably not here, and not now. Another word of caution: it is possible that the one we tag as enemy would likely have the same thought about us: we are rubbish to him or her. In other words, emotions of mutual disdain are likely to be shown by persons who imagine themselves to be having enemies.

In that context I wish to proceed to say that one of the most obvious benefits we can have from an enemy is we—defamed and all—get to know (in high definition and on large screens) what our weaknesses and shortcomings are.

For free.

With that contention I wish to elaborate on three things.

One, although we know who we are and what we do, we often need confirmation from other people to feel secured or to reach a certain level of comfort. If there is issue about our negative side, we hardly get this confirmation from friends. But with enemies, we get it for free. A basic example of how this process of confirmation works: I know I am arrogant, condescending and hard-headed. With friends, I am likely to get 4-star, instead of 3-star, ratings or reviews. I feel good and continue to live my life being arrogant, condescending and hard-headed, confident in my belief that I am doing great by being what I am. But with enemies, the world get to know that I am not only arrogant but also a bully, a spoiled brat and one who has violent tendencies; not only condescending but one who is more like an idiot; not only hard-headed but one who bristles when challenged.

The painful words we hear from people who speak ill of us are, from our perspective, often libelous. How we react to them can neither be right nor wrong, but will probably indicate how we appreciate the value of an enemy. Examples:

  • File a lawsuit, in defense of our honor;
  • We can always reject and return insults (with added venom) to the sender; or
  • Accept the “gift,” no matter how outlandish the content or outsized the wrapping.

That last point brings me to the second argument for why we derive benefits from enemies at no cost. As suggested at the outset, enemies are in pain. When they bring out caricatures of people they hate, they often exaggerate. This means that what people say about us may not necessarily be inaccurate; but their use of figurative speech (either in Latin, Greek, English, Tagalog, etc.) may make them baseless or even repugnant. Otherwise, exaggeration, when used positively, is music to all. Example: “Happy birthday to the best daddy in the world!”


From Wikipedia:

Exaggeration is a term for a figure of speech. It means the describing of something and making it more than it really is.

An example of exaggeration would be: “I was walking along when suddenly this enormous dog walked along. It was as big as an elephant”. The dog may have been big, but it was certainly not as big as that. Another example of exaggeration would be: “I caught a fish as big as my house.”

Overstatement is another word that means almost the same thing. The opposite of overstatement is understatement.

A hyperbole is a type of exaggeration that is used in literature. It is a figure of speech. The opposite of hyperbole is hypobole, which is an understatement.

People exaggerate things because they have strong feelings about something. People may exaggerate to make people listen to what they say. They may do it to emphasize something. They may also exaggerate just to sound funny:

”I’ve heard that a million times”

”You’ve got a head the size of a pin”.

“I just ran a million miles”

People may understate because they are being modest:

“Thank you, yes, I suppose I may have helped a little” (in a situation where the person actually helped a lot).

In modern slang, the word “hype” is sometimes used about something that is getting more publicity than it really deserves. The word hype comes from the word “hyperbole”.


Thus when an enemy calls me names and tells me I made a life-long career out of being a prostitute, he or she is probably stressing the fact that at some point in my life I offered false testimonies in exchange of a high position in government.

That said, I am glad that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, through Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas, its President, has recently called the Catholic Church to critically self-examine itself in view of President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirade against the institution.

And that “self-examination”, said Archbishop Villegas, must begin among the Church leaders.

This represents a slight departure from gestures of recent months where bishops would quickly dismiss Mr. Duterte as a publicly-decorated nuisance, or something that looks like it. This, to me, is a sign of acknowledging that in a dump of cabbages and kings, something good can come out of an arrogant, condescending and hard-headed enemy.

The third point is about subjecting ourselves to a process that can make us better persons. Studies about organizations show that there is value in “criticism and self-criticism.” For example, researchers Dan Lovallo Olivier Sibony have suggested that nominating a “Devil’s Advocate” is one of three elements that constitutes an effective decision-making process.

They explained:

the most effective decision-making processes embraced contrarian critiques. Yet in many executive boardrooms dissension can be viewed as analogous to treason. An effective way to circumvent this very human reaction is to institutionalize the role of Devil’s Advocate. Essentially, someone should be nominated to poke holes in the team’s assumptions and strategies. By re-framing dissent as valuable, the Devil’s Advocate can help the team arrive at better decisions without becoming a pariah. Doing so also has the added benefit of normalizing useful but critical feedback by mitigating the fear of reprisal.

With this further advice:

Clearly, the sort of decision-making process outlined above can be demanding and time-consuming. The recommendation then is to employ it only when faced with those infrequent, non-routine, strategically significant decisions with which executive teams are confronted from time to time — in other words, the decisions that pose a significant opportunity for, and threat to, the organization’s future.


More on the Devil’s Advocate

Many successful organizations spend good money for the services of an “enemy”, one who says nothing but negative things about them. The idea is obvious: when we know everything that can be said negatively about ourselves, we have the option of addressing any which way we like whatever perceived issues there maybe about us. If we are in commerce, this puts us ahead of the competition.

The idea of creating an enemy in the person of a Devil’s Advocate (Advocatus Diaboli) came from the Catholic Church in its “human” effort to enhance its beautification and canonization process. Although in practice since 1524, the Office of the Promoter of the Faith (Promotor Fidei), the official title of the Devil’s advocate, was formally established only in 1587 by Sixtus V. The Promotor Fidei took a juridical position against the canonization of any given saint, in effect taking the devil’s part in the proceedings, which then gave rise to the monicker Devil’s Advocate.

Prospero Lambertini, who assumed the role of a Devil’s Advocate for 20 years before he became Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), highlighted the level of scrutiny candidates were put under. He explained that there might be a need to ask whether a candidate for sainthood had any serious character defects, suggesting that inquisitors should see if they might be selfish motives in even their good deeds. Affirmed by Church tradition, he further insisted that every act and motive must be questioned, no matter how slight. While no saint is absolutely perfect, the Promotor Fidei’s job was to insist that those raised to the sacred dignity of sainthood should be as perfect as possible. John Paul II (1978-2005) abolished the Office of Promoter of the Faith in 1983, but the rigor of the process remains until today.


As aspiritual mortals, we find it hard to understand what Jesus Christ meant when he said “Love your enemies.” And yet, as everyday experiences can tell us, we sometimes realize that enemies can make us stronger and better persons.

Putting this basic teaching into action is even harder. Mahatma Gandhi of India (1869-1948), whose country was being ravaged by Christian British colonizers, said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Former US President Barack Obama, then a Senator, was once reported as having suggested that the Christian faith cannot hold a country together.

Obama referred to the Sermon of the Mount, “a collection of sayings and teachings credited to Jesus, which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6, and 7). The Sermon is the longest continuous section of Jesus speaking found in the New Testament; it includes some of the best known teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes, and the widely recited Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 5:43-28:20, the Lord urges his followers to love their enemies.

If Obama is correct, one wonders why countries can’t be brought down to the level of a community where its members live like friends or, yes, enemies.

Maybe what we need is to erase all ideas related to a country or nation, and replace them with one where all peoples simply consider themselves “citizens of the world,” as Socrates wanted himself to be called.

Join Inkdrops in its wild chase for that draft rules constituting a new world order. Write your comments below.

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