Desmond Tutu has some advice which seems particularly needed at present, in this time of intense divisiveness in the culture: “If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends; if you want peace, talk to your enemies.” When a spirit of anger or fear is running strong, we naturally turn to friends for support, commiseration, encouragement—yet Tutu reminds us that the peace we long for will not come until the actual enemies who inspire the anger or fear can be engaged.
His advice may be relevant as well for the inner enemies that each of us carries, enemies that get stirred up during bouts of depression or anxiety, enemies that acquire a special power in the wake of trauma. For along with actual people and forces outside myself who become enemies, I have emotions and memories and responses within that have the same (perhaps have greater) power to inspire anger and fear as my external enemies. And just as I may be inclined to avoid the enemies outside me, so do I tend to try and shut down, wall off, and deny or avoid my inner enemies rather than acknowledge them or try to understand them.
Many kinds of therapy offer strategies for talking to the inner enemies, using imagination or dialogue, sometimes incorporating movement. Whatever the strategy, however, the intent is to build a relationship with these estranged parts of myself so that they become allies rather than enemies, contributing to my strength and my resources rather than diverting me or draining my energies. One of my therapists suggested I use the image “the conference table of the heart” as I envisioned inviting all the parts of myself, those myriad voices we carry inside, to come forward and be heard without judgment. It seems that all sides of one’s self do desire to play a meaningful role in my life, but some of those inner characters, through harmful childhood experiences or profoundly discounting relationships, have been warped into an unhelpful way of functioning. So these “enemies” need me to invite them in for a conference and a negotiation in order to come up with a better role. The goal is not to eliminate an inner enemy but to redefine it from enemy to collaborator, possibly even friend.
Talking to enemies, those around me and those within me, will never be an easy matter. I will always prefer spending time with friends. But the enemies remain, and until I engage them there is no hope for peace, not in the world around me, nor in the world within me.