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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Thanksgiving. Cheating, Bitterness, and Understanding

I have been having a series of conversations recently with someone whose ideology I have deeply and bitterly opposed . Just as they have deeply and bitterly opposed mine.

Throughout the course of these conversations, I have discovered that as I have stopped pushing or saying internally “What is the matter with you, anyway???”, and “How can you possibly believe that???”(those are the kinder versions of my thoughts), and instead devoted myself to listening to the fear that is behind it; the fear that his way of life is being taken away;  the anger that someone beyond his control in a higher position of power who does not know or understand him is going to strip him of what is his right; I have noticed a shift inside myself.

Because I, too, fear.  I fear those who would take away what I see as the most beautiful things this country has to offer, in a gathering such as we had last weekend at our TLC retreat camp: a gathering at a thanksgiving table of another sort, where in that room we had almost every religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, race you might think of and we were all working together towards a common goal of understanding each other and becoming aware of how we can best help each other.  A common goal of becoming our best selves.

And I, too, am angry, at those in power who would strip people of their rights and, more importantly, of the vision that we can, indeed, embrace each other’s differences and be stronger for it, not weaker.

But unless I can see that my friend – my friend, who until now I have called my enemy – is no different than I am at my core, nothing will substantively change.  He has the same dreams I do: to live a life where he can be free of his fears; to live a life of trust; to live a life of openness.  To live a life where he and I can live together.  To live a life of compassion, which means “to suffer with”.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., says Understanding Is The Beginning of Compassion. This is one of the hardest things in my life to do.  Because I would rather lash out than understand, when my anger overcomes me.

There are those in my life who get under my skin so much that I would rather hurt them than hear them.

But IF – and this is a big “if” – I listen to what is underneath, I discover their humanity there.  And when I discover their humanity, and only when I discover their humanity, a substantive change can take place in me, in my relationship with them, and in the world at large.

It’s no different on the tennis court.  (I know some of you, if you have read this far, were wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with tennis?”).

When I run into someone on the tennis court who desperately needs to win, or cheat, or make excuses, or take away the joy of the game for others by their own negative attitude, my desire is to hurt them as they have hurt me.

But if I can stop and say, “They want the same thing I want”, I can have a starting point of understanding them.  This is, of course, after I compassionately punch them in the face.  (WHAT??? WHAT????  NEAL!!!!!……  Don’t worry, just trying to catch those of you who have snoozed off).

If I can ask, really ask, what it is that is causing them to be so afraid that they would risk their own integrity to get it, I am able to identify those same tendencies inside myself.  Because I do and have acted on those selfish and fearful tendencies, too.

Understanding another does not mean I stop working for what we had in that room last weekend and on the courts of TLC’s retreat camp.  It means I redouble my efforts so not just those who are in that room are included, but those who actively resist what is in that room belong in my life, too.

It means, when I say “including all” – and this is the hardest part for me – I mean all.  It means including those who I bitterly oppose.  Those I fear are at cross purposes with what I hope to build in life.  Those I do not like.  And who do not like me.

They are me.

Which is why, at least for this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my enemy who I now see as a friend.

And I am grateful for all of you who have become friends and have widened the net to include me.  And all the other “Me’s” in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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