Love your enemies: why human respect is the key to victory

When I was in college, my primary motivator for activism was anger. No, that doesn’t even accurately describe my mindset at the time. Fury would probably be the more correct term.

I was an emerging libertarian before there was any broader impulse or community behind the term. I was convinced that I knew how things should be. Anyone who disagreed with me was a lazy coward at best, at worst, a closeted communist.

And, oh boy, there were plenty of them at the University of Michigan. Famous for being a hotbed of radicalism and progressive elitism since the 1960s, there was no shortage of reasons for my youthful anger in Ann Arbor. 

I would read the Michigan Daily editorial, and as they preached one socialist cliché after another, I would tear the paper to shreds and throw it in the trash with indignant authority.

Filled with the blind confidence of anger, I would stride out onto the Diag, seeking out the progressive talking points of the day and engage in what I thought was a “debate.” 

My strategy was simple; I enjoyed demonstrating the absurdity of their positions (can’t you see that all government action is theft and slavery!!!). When they disagreed, I would simply raise my volume and my indignation. Surely, I would have some success…

My inability to convert people and the general isolation of the liberty movement on campus in the days before the Ron Paul campaign only reinforced my mindset. The more statist idiots disagreed with me, the more evidence I had of my own position. As the need for more indignant activism grew, so did my anger.

Love helped me convince more people than anger did

Fast forward almost a decade, and I joke that my former self would never be accepted in today’s SFL Local Coordinator Program (you can even sign up here). I broke every rule of communication and conversion that we teach today:

Be friendly

Assume the good intentions of opponents

Commit to the most generous form of the thesis

Smile and stay positive: always present yourself to the audience around you and not to beat your opponent.

It took me a long time to realize these lessons, and it was only possible through a large dose of trial and error (emphasis on the error part). I have been blessed over the past few years to meet countless people smarter than me, proving that I don’t have all, or even some, of the answers.

Working to build coalitions across the political spectrum has shown me how well-intentioned my intellectual opponents are, how their own values and life experiences shaped their worldview, forcing me to reflect on my own influences and approach to interacting with the world.

Fortunately, I have a constant reminder in the form of an old sticker stuck on the back of a “stop” sign that I cross as I go to the office.

Anger was hurting me

Not only was my anger counterproductive in terms of winning hearts and minds, but it was also self-destructive.

Anger did more to destroy myself than to defeat my enemies. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to write letters to the editor responding to the day’s stupidity, unable to sleep because of the injustices that I absolutely had to correct.

This attitude created a reinforcement of a cycle of negativity: my anger from negative thoughts led to negative words and negative actions to seek more conflicts and start over again. Not very healthy.

I am grateful for this torn sticker being placed in my daily walking path. I can’t guarantee it, but I think it wasn’t an accident. It’s a constant reminder of my past madness and a challenge to make up for it every day. 

The response to injustice is not anger but love. We should not hate our opponents but love them with every fiber of our being. They give us purpose and a chance to overcome our biases.

Some people may wonder how they can or should love in this way. Isn’t love a personal relationship between individuals? A mutual feeling of respect and communion? Or romantic love between two people?

Martin Luther King taught me universal love

For all these questions, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had an answer. He often noted that the ancient Greeks had not one but several words for love. Eros, or romantic love. Philia, fraternal or friendship love. And Agape, universal love:

“Agape is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart.

And so when one rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.”

That’s why I am very grateful to be part of the Students For Liberty community. Isolation breeds resentment. The community we build through our student groups, forums, and conferences creates a circle of positivity that we can capture and bring into the world.

I know all of this probably sounds very boring and unpleasant, but as I recently moved from that neighborhood, I often find myself reflecting on the sticker. Like all good lessons needed to be learned the hard way and over and over again. 

I know many others are fighting the same internal battle, trying to reconcile their frustrations and longing for good with the injustices of the world. I just want to tell everyone that there is hope.

If you can let go of the anger in your heart, love will rush in to fill the void. Love for your enemies can bring you inner peace and a glow on the outside. Working in politics or philosophy is not enough. 

As Leonard Read taught, we need to be living examples of the ideas we defend. We need to be the light in the darkness, a positive example of what freedom makes possible.

Is there a way for the liberty movement to grow and achieve more victories that we’ve simply overlooked? The answer to all of those questions is a concept that everyone intuitively understands: Respect.

The role of human respect and how it helps advance liberty will be an important topic of discussion at Students For Liberty’s upcoming LibertyCon International. 

Spike Cohen, Founder and President of You Are the Power and 2020 Libertarian Party nominee for vice-president, will discuss why respect is the key to victory for the liberty movement.

Students For Liberty’s flagship annual event, LibertyCon International will be held in Washington, D.C., on February 2-4, 2024. It promises to be the place for engaging with leading experts and connecting with others who share a dedication to advancing pro-liberty ideas and creating a freer future.

Click the button below to sign up for updates and secure your spot at this exciting event. We can’t wait to see you there!

This piece is adapted from a Portuguese translation of an article originally published on the Students For Liberty website in 2017.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

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