Can You Succeed In Life Without Angering Anyone?
Enemies Seem to Be a Requirement for Growth
If you don’t have any enemies, you should. Going through life without acquiring naysayers may be the equivalent of the “unexamined life” that Plato said was not worth living, a life of “quiet desperation” according to Henry David Thoreau. Enemies can come in many forms, not necessarily just violent ones or people that would delight in seeing you dead at all costs like the betrayed ex-girlfriend or your cable company. Bill Cosby once said that he didn’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure was trying to please everybody. If everyone loves you, and gets along well with you because you are so quick to agree with them or appease them, perhaps you aren’t living up to your full potential.
Joseph Campbell spent the bulk of his life researching how mythology has developed in societies over time, and came to realize fairly early on that every human being goes through a journey in their life similar to many of the mythological figures we have recorded in fiction. He referred to this journey as the “monomyth” or hero’s journey, and it always involved in one respect or another, a struggle against the status quo. This usually meant challenging the preconceived notions others have of your personal identity and abilities in order that you could step out of the mold they have cast for you and grow. But most people, even well meaning friends and family, often don’t want you to grow.
If you grow, that means you change, and often the change and transformation you undergo when this happens threatens those around you. It invalidates their own assumptions about the way life is, or should be. It can be so threatening, that personal change often results in the generation of true enemies, people who dig their heels in and say you have “gone crazy” and need to be helped or stopped before it is too late. If these enemies are organizations or people with no friendly connection to you, they will often throw their money at trying to stop whatever you have started, or use dubious legal and other manipulative means to discredit you.
Having enemies is a validation of the fact that you are making progress in your life. It means that you are accepting of and fostering change, willing to take risks to see that things improve. Initially this may just be improvements for you personally, but all great change eventually creates ideas that spread to others and encourages them to take risks as well.
We’ve seen this with historical figures like Napoleon, who revolutionized Europe after conquering it to provide all people with such ideals as tolerance for religious division and universal education. We’ve seen it with Jesus. Many assume Jesus was a peace loving man, but he clearly said in the Bible that he did not come to bring peace, “but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
We’ve also seen inventors from Henry Ford to Steven Jobs revolutionize society by promoting ways to use and produce technology that seemed trivial or unworkable to their contemporaries. Lifestyle changers have shown us what is possible in our own ordinary lives with the likes of Martha Stewart or Gordon Ramsay. Martha, Gordon and Steven Jobs have all been loathed at one point or another by those around them, often repeatedly.
Many others have brought about revolutions in society that we seldom even notice any more because they are so commonplace. What Sam Walton did to lower the prices for thousands of everyday consumer goods is a prime example. How many enemies does Walmart have today in small, local store owners that have been put out of business by the “big box” concept of selling at the lowest possible price? You may despise what Walmart has done to small town America, but how often do you shop there?
Having enemies doesn’t mean that you are completely right and they are completely wrong in the stance you’ve taken. It does mean that you are fully alive however, pursuing your dream, and not allowing detractors to stand in your way. If you are thinking of starting a new business, pursuing a creative endeavor, or initiating some dramatic social change in your lifestyle, maybe first you should consider who would not like such a change. The more they don’t like it and the more they may potentially ridicule you for it, the more valuable it is likely to be. It might be the one thing you are remembered for after you die.
So go out and acquire some new enemies, and change the world in the process. If you don’t stand up for what you believe in and force the world to change in the process, you will still have enemies, but they have so effectively silenced you that they don’t even know you exist. They have had “the last laugh,” while you have accepted the role of a compliant little sheep, told what to do, how to live, and what to settle for. Is that what thousands of years of battles for the cause of freedom have been fought for in western society, from the opening campaign in the battle of Granicus River led by Alexander the Great, to the Normandy landing on D-Day to push back the Nazis?
The Nazis were true conformists who believed that only a very narrow definition of the ideal human being deserved to survive and thrive in society. We think the Nazis and their fascist ways are long dead and gone, but are they really? How many politicians today build their entire careers on the promotion of intolerance? Such characters fear novelty, change, and those who foster revolution. You have to ask yourself, did all the freedom fighting humans who died so you could live your life in your own way die just so you can be a good little sheep? If no one is upset by your expression of your true values and interests, how alive can you really consider yourself to be? Aren’t you just another cog in the machine?
Can you name one great man or woman in human history that stood out for their differences who didn’t have enemies somewhere, no matter what they set out to accomplish? Gandhi? He had the entire British empire for an enemy as he worked for Indian independence. Mother Theresa perhaps? Who could have anything against Mother Theresa? But then, she was a Catholic, and many people think the Catholics are completely loony. Every significant figure in human history had enemies. Did they let that stop them? What about little old you?