Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, by Arthur C. Brooks

It is now too long since I read this (very fascinating) treatise for me to be able to write a good post about it.  So I hope that even a fairly mediocre post will convince you that this is a good title to go out and read as soon as possible.  Also, it's not a very long book, only a couple of hundred pages, so there's no reason to put it off.

Brooks asks: are you sick of fighting yet?  Of screaming at people who don't listen and only scream right back?  Maybe it's time we tried something a little different.  He figures the only way to get anything done -- to improve civic life, bring people together, look for some unity even when we disagree -- is to "practice warm-heartedness."  (He asked the Dalai Lama.)  Listen to others with an open heart, engage with love, will the good of others, and disagree with respect.

...there is a practical, albeit self-interested, reason to avoid contempt, even for those with whom you disagree most strongly.  It's horrible for you...contempt makes you unhappy, unhealthy, and unattractive even to those who agree with you.  Hating others is associated with depression.  Contempt will wreck your relationships and harm your health.  It is a dangerous vice...
My point is simple: love and warm-heartedness might not change every heard and mind, but they are always worth trying, and they will always make you better off.  They should be your (and my) default position.
So Brooks (who is by the way no relation to that other columnist fellow Brooks) goes on to pile on the evidence -- psychological, social, historical, philosophical -- that we are currently stuck on a destructive method of engagement that mainly profits a few folks and results in a divided and unhappy society.  He sets out four rules for changing that, one person at a time:

1. Focus on other people's distress, and focus on it empathetically.
2. Use the 5-to-1 rule: five positive comments for one criticism.
3. No contempt is ever justified, even if you think someone deserves it.  It is unjustified more often than you know, it is always bad for you, and it will never convince anyone that they are wrong.
4. Go where people disagree with you and learn from them.  That means making new friends and seeking out opinions you know you don't agree with.

Expanding on those takes up most of the book, and then he ends with five slightly different suggestions, the first of which is "Stand up to the Man," so I like it.

I got a lot out of this book, I thought it had some important ideas in it, and I enjoyed it too.  I hereby classify this book as a Book Everyone Should Read.  That's a tag here at Howling Frog, and not a lot of books have it.

The last quotation I'm sharing is especially for my mom and other librarians:
I always suspected that Margaret Wise Brown was secretly moonlighting as a beat poet.


  1. Age-old wisdom repackaged for today. Seems nothing can convince us, even the words of Jesus or the Dalai Lama, unless it gets the stamp of approval from "behavioral science." Well, whatever works to convince people to stop hatin'! I will try to give this a look.

  2. Yeah, pretty much! :) I think you would like this one.


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