Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, zoologist, botanist, and geologist once said: “Our friends show us what we can do, our enemies teach us what we must do.” Goethe goes on to say that a man cannot live with everyone, and, therefore, he cannot live for everyone. To see this truth clearly is to place a high value on one’s friends, and not to hate or persecute those who try to do us harm. In fact, take every opportunity to find out, if you can, the worthiness or worthlessness of your opponents; it will give you a decided advantage over them.1
One of the first things we can learn from those who oppose us is that we may need to change. Yes, there are things that can go wrong in life. We can either try to escape it, deny it, or find out what’s not right. After all, on a cold winter day, if there’s no heat in your house, you don’t complain because it’s the middle of winter, you find out why the heater is not working. The conflict between you and someone else may not be due to external circumstances but an internal attitude or bias. These things don’t always happen to us, but for us. By making the necessary changes we can become a better person.
Another thing we can learn from the opposition is that while we can’t always control life, we can control ourselves. Having to work with a hard-to-get-along-with person may not be our fault, or having to work under a new boss who is very controlling and even bullying was not our choice but that of the company we work for. So instead of seeing these as problems that irritate us, we can see them as opportunities to learn new skills. Don’t see yourself as the loser or the victim, but as someone who is ready to meet a challenge and show they have what it takes to survive.
We can also learn from what we are up against, that we may not be able to change the situation, but we can certainly change the way we look at the situation. The first thing we need to tell ourselves is that the situation is not out of control, only that we need to take control of the situation. Remember, when we learn by experience how to master change, then change will not master us. We can either use pain and disappointment to motivate us to find higher ground, or allow pain and disappointment keep us in the valley of despair.
An additional thing we can learn when facing obstacles is that it will help us find out where we are weak and where we are strong. The stronger we become, the less afraid we will be when sudden changes come into our lives. We know that no matter what happens, we have more going for us than against us. Strength does not come all at once, it is built up over the years to become one of life’s most valuable assets.
Believe it or not, sometimes we can be our own worst enemy or our own best friend. Buddha once said that your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts. Sometimes when unexpected things come at us, we hate ourselves for not seeing it headed our way ahead of time. Why didn’t we notice what was happening? So we end up hating ourselves for letting something that could have been avoided from throwing us off track. If we don’t learn how to forgive ourselves, feeling sad, upset, and angry, will cause us to keep thinking about this over and over.
Also, when we find ourselves caught in an embarrassing situation, we will quickly learn who our true friends are. There will be many people who prove to be great friends to be around when times are easy, but take note of the people who remain in our lives when times get hard. Those are friends that are willing to sacrifice their time and the resources they have in their life to help improve ours. Those are our real friends. A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
And finally, having to deal with hardships and disappointments will help us realize what matters and what doesn’t in life. When things don’t go right and we can’t function the way we’re used to living, there will be some things we’ll have to learn to live without. We can spend our time feeling sad about the situation and missing the things we used to enjoy. But that will not make us happy. But if we learn to enjoy the simple things in life, little by little, and appreciate what we do have, then we will realize that life is not too bad after all.
King Solomon said that if what you are doing is right, God will cause your enemies to try and make peace with you.2 In other words, treating an opponent with disdain and arrogance will only make them despise you more. But returning good for evil will cause them to think differently about you. Perhaps that’s why the Apostle Peter said that if someone insults you, find a way to compliment them. Don’t throw back the pie they threw in your face. Rather, have them sit down and eat it with you and tell them how good it tastes. You are not trying to convict them that what they did to you was wrong, but helping them to convict themselves. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe: Translated by Bailey Saunders, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1906, p. 201
2 Proverbs 16:7