Monday, March 1, 2010

Rethinking Enemy Images

A guy tries for ten minutes to merge onto a busy boulevard, cursing out the drivers that pass as ignorant and selfish. Finally someone gives him a break. Once on the road, he goes by several merges further on, also with long back-ups of cars waiting to get on. His friend suggests allowing in one of the cars. “Why should I let in any of those idiots?” he responds. “I’m in a hurry.”

It is just human nature to assess our own motives as reasonable and justified, and the motives of others as selfish, despicable, or even evil. This habit, while bad enough on the interpersonal level, can become deadly when practiced by groups or nations. Yet that mindset can be transformed by the simple act of getting to know the “enemy” or “other” and engaging in problem-solving.

I love stories that confront us with this truth. In the middle-grade novel Beyond the Dragon Portal (2005- Melissa Glenn Haber) Sadie travels to Dragonland to find her lost sister. Just when she thinks she understands this strange land and is fired up with anger against the enemy who is killing her dragon friends, she discovers that the truth about the Dragons’ war is much more complicated than she thought. I don’t want to give anything away, but this well-crafted story cleverly enables readers to get an insider’s view of the “enemy” and of war.

I am compiling a list of books that inspire readers to rethink enemy images. Let me know if you have any nominations!


  1. I have seen that merging thing happen much too often, like it's a personal insult that someone wants to get on the road in front of them, until it's they themselves who want to get onto the road. What a great analogy for personally-based perceptions influencing actions at every level of society, from personal to national, to international. If people don't realize it when they are driving, they certainly won't realize it when dealing with national or international issues.

  2. Some people are better at recognizing it at the international level than in their personal interactions, so it can actually work both ways.

    I read a good book that goes into how attributing negative motives can affect problem solving at work and home: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I highly recommend this book as well as the others by the same author.

  3. I love this blog. You've set me thinking, as well as suggested some books I should look into. Rethinking enemy images...hmmmmm... a powerful thought!