Last week, I gave you a window into the youth workshops that Dr. Tekalign Nega and I have started leading in Ethiopia with the U.S. Embassy. This week, I’m excited to share some of that content with you. You can read my brief message on the common good and enemy-love below or, if you have Facebook, watch the video (starting at minute 21) here.
Have a great week,
The New Ethiopia
Prime Minister Abiy has called for a “new Ethiopia.” What is the new Ethiopia, and what does it require to become possible?
I believe two things are essential for the flourishing of a new Ethiopia and renewal in any society: the common good and enemy-love. In this essay, let me briefly unpack these two ideas.
The Common Good
Humans are creatures driven by what we love. When we talk about “the good,” we’re using another name for what we consider worthy of our love. And what we love is what we give ourselves to. It’s what claims our attention and energy.
So what is the common good? What is a love worth sharing with one another that can energize our culture and guide our society to a better future?
The common good is a two-part idea: (1) all people were created to flourish and (2) our most important work is work that serves others and not just ourselves or our group. The common good means that (1) all people – not just a few – were created to flourish, to discover and develop their unique gifts and talents so that they’re fully alive. And (2) our most important work is work that serves others and not just ourselves or our group. When we prioritize those two ideas, we live in a shared or common goodness, which makes each of us more alive and fulfilled.
The common good says: I’m richer when you are richer. I’m smarter when you are smarter. I’m healthier when you are healthier. I have more opportunity when you have more opportunity. I win when you win; I don’t lose.
So, the common good is an attitude of cooperation across differences rather than competition. It prioritizes listening and learning instead of certainty and imposing ideas on others. You think differently than me; what can I learn from you? You have a different family and religion; how can you help me see the world in new ways? I have experiences and resources you don’t have; how can I share them with you?
Again, the common good leads to cooperation rather than competition, to a common wealth rather than riches and poverty.
But how can the common good be healed if our community has been devastated by suspicion, hatred, and violence? That takes me to my next idea.
I think the most powerful path to healing the common good after we’ve been divided into friends and enemies is loving our enemies. Here I want to unpack the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr.
As you know, Dr. King was an extremely important religious and moral leader in America’s civil rights struggle to end segregation and improve racial justice. And King believed the only way to make a new America was for Americans to learn how to love their enemies and give up hate for the common good.
Dr. King proposed three powerful ideas for how to love our enemies.
“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive” (44).
If we can’t release the failures of others, we can’t remove the barriers between us and the common good is impossible. Forgiveness says, “I want to hold onto you, not what you did wrong. Let’s start over.” King makes the powerful point that it is often the victims who initiate forgiveness, which requires great strength and courage.
Second, Dr. King argued that we must have a new vision of others and ourselves. Our enemies are not totally evil, and we are not totally good. There is good in them and evil in us. This perspective on human fallibility protects us against dehumanizing and demonizing others to see the beautiful but broken humanity inside all of us.
“Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but win [our enemy’s] friendship and understanding” (46).
King was clear that loving an enemy doesn’t necessarily mean “liking” them. King’s enemies bombed his home and eventually assassinated him. King is not asking us to love oppression. But King is calling us to try to understand our enemies, build bridges with them, and see if we can’t also build friendship with one another.
But why would you struggle to love your enemies and heal the common good when our culture teaches us to do the opposite? King gives us three reasons.
First, “returning hate for hate multiples hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (47). Think about trying to put out a fire by pouring gas on the flames. It will only burn hotter and destroy everything. For King, loving our enemies is “an absolute necessity for our survival.” Love is the only way to stop our society from burning down in hatred and violence.
Second, “hate scars the soul and distorts the personality” (47). King’s insight was that hate makes us smaller, poorer, and weaker inside. Hate is like a drug that promises to make us feel strong and powerful but rots our teeth, blinds our vision, and leads to death. King’s point is profound: when you hate others, you don’t just harm them; you also harm yourself.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity” (48).
Again, King’s point is powerful: you can kill an enemy, but you have still not defeated them. The hatred, anger, and guilt are still inside of you. Even your dead enemy still controls you. So the only way to truly defeat an enemy is to overcome hatred and turn them into a friend.
What is the new Ethiopia, and how do we get there? I think committing ourselves to the common good and loving our enemies is the starting point. The common good affirms that all people were created to flourish and that our most important work in life is to serve others not just ourselves or our group. Loving our enemies requires a courageous commitment to forgiveness, a humble vision of others and ourselves, and the creative work of building new understanding and friendship.
Seven out of ten Ethiopians are 25 or younger. Youth are not the future of Ethiopia. Youth are today’s Ethiopia. The new Ethiopia is impossible without you. Today I want to invite you to become ambassadors of the common good and love for enemies in your community. I believe your life and work will contribute to a richer, stronger, more flourishing Ethiopia as we walk together through this important crossroads.