• Philip Stratton

"Love Your Enemies" Highlights


I found this book very thought-provoking and on target regarding the issues we are experiencing within our culture. As he states in the book, the title is misleading because we are not enemies. We are Americans with a common goal - a country that delivers on the promise of liberty and the ability to pursue happiness. We differ on how to go about achieving this, but that does not make us enemies meeting on the battlefield. It makes us collaborators, earnestly and passionately engaging with each other in order to stimulate the best decisions for all of society, not just a select and exclusive few.

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt

Brooks, Arthur C.


Introduction: Are You Sick of Fighting Yet?

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Social scientists define contempt as anger mixed with disgust. These two emotions form a toxic combination, like ammonia mixed with bleach. In the words of the nineteenth-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

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In his Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of the other.”

Chapter 2: Can You Afford to Be Nice?

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Thich Nhat Hanh, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

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This knowledge can save marriages. In his bestselling classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recounts how a man came to one of his seminars and told him, “Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?” Covey told him the answer was simple. He should love her. But, the man protested, he didn’t feel love anymore. “How do you love when you don’t love?” the man asked. “My friend,” Covey replied, “love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her.” If he did those things, if he treated her with love, Covey promised, he would feel love for her again, because feelings follow action. “If our feelings control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so,” Covey writes. “Reactive people make [love] a feeling. . . . Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self. . . . Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.”

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Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Chapter 3: Love Lessons for Leaders

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some people are paradoxically attracted to bullies. In her book The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Claremont Graduate University professor Jean Lipman-Blumen shows that people complain about political dictators and tyrannical executives, yet nearly always remain loyal out of a primordial admiration for power and a need for security in an uncertain world. In the orchestra, there is a joke that makes this last point. A viola player for years is singled out for abuse and torment by the conductor. One day, he comes home from rehearsal to find his house burned to the ground. The police on the scene tell him it’s arson, and that there is evidence that the culprit is none other than the conductor himself. Asked if he has any questions, the violist thinks for a moment and asks softly, “The maestro came to my house?”

Chapter 4: How Can I Love My Enemies If They Are Immoral?

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The first expression can be called redistributive fairness, which holds that it is fair to redistribute rewards proportional to our needs. The game is rigged, and so you have to redistribute wealth because the rigging is inherently unfair. The second expression can be called meritocratic fairness, which holds that fairness means always matching reward to merit. You should get only what you earn, nothing for free, and you should not be able to take away something that somebody else earns.

Chapter 6: Tell Me a Story

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Fact-based arguments don’t persuade people very well at all, it turns out, because people don’t work like computers, updating their beliefs in response to the highest-fidelity data.

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“Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?”: The hedonistic conception of man is that of a lightning calculator of pleasures and pains, who oscillates like a homogeneous globule of desire of happiness under the impulse of stimuli that shift him about the area, but leave him intact. He has neither antecedent nor consequent. He is an isolated, definitive human datum, in stable equilibrium except for the buffets of the impinging forces that displace him in one direction or another.

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Psychologists have consistently shown that virtually everyone falls prey to “confirmation bias,” a propensity to believe evidence in support of prior beliefs and to reject evidence that contradicts these beliefs.

Chapter 7: Is Competition Our Problem?

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President Barack Obama put it in a 2015 public conversation we had together at Georgetown University, the “free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history—it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.”

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What Americans do resent is not that others prosper per se, but that others prosper by gaming the system—further evidence that true competition, as we understand it, requires cooperation with the rules of fair play.

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Expecting trustworthy results on politically charged topics from an “ideologically incestuous community,” he explained, is “downright delusional.”

Chapter 8: Please Disagree with Me

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Have you ever won an argument? According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I referenced a few chapters ago, the answer is no. “You can’t win an argument,” Carnegie writes. “You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph.” Carnegie sums it up with this old verse: A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still.

Conclusion: Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt

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Rule 3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult. Contempt is the problem in our culture today, and it is never the solution. We are polarized and unable to make progress because contempt has created a bitter tribalism in America. Do not be part of this problem. No insults, no mockery. And as psychologist John Gottman taught us way back in chapter 1, no eye-rolling! I must come back to a point I have made repeatedly: never treat others with contempt, even if you believe they deserve it. First, your contempt makes any persuasion of others impossible, because no one has ever been insulted into agreement. Second, you may be wrong to assume that certain people are beyond reason.

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The single biggest way a subversive can change America is not by disagreeing less, but by disagreeing better—engaging in earnest debate while still treating everyone with love and respect.


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