How Our Enemies Can Help Us

A few days ago, a friend was talking to me about some injustice he had suffered from one of his enemies.  He was justifiably furious at having been wronged.  While I sympathized with him, some later reflection on the matter cast the issue in a different light.  It may even be stated, in the form of a general principle, that the vindictive actions of our enemies can serve as instruments for our continued upward growth and development.  How this may be so, we will examine in this essay.

There can be no love without hate; no surfeit without want; and no real achievement without failure.  The actions of our enemies make us appreciate the good things in life, and cause us to value more dearly the positive things of this world.  Who can know love, without having experienced the sting of rejection?  Who, never having gone hungry, can appreciate the satiety that comes from a full stomach?  And who can appreciate the intoxication of victory, who has not felt the bitter sting of failure?


The actions of our enemies harden our sensibilities, and sharpen our cognitive faculties, so that we may be on our guard in life’s inevitable struggles.  The mountain goat conditions his stomach on rough fare, and grows strong on the bitterest and most miserable of food; yet he who feasts only on delicacies gradually becomes effete and lacking in fortitude.  The vulture, because he feeds on carrion, is counted by us as a disgusting and wretched animal; but for the ancient Romans, experienced in divination by auguries, he was a favored animal and good omen.  For a vulture never attacked a living man, and performed a useful natural function in removing a source of pestilence.

Our enemies teach us to be wary, and force us to watch our behavior.  Your observations of your enemy will cause you to note his negative qualities:  his meanness, cruelty, stupidity, and cowardice.  Your increased awareness of these traits will help you to avoid them yourself; our enemies in this way become a form of external regulator.  Only a fool will make no effort to learn from his enemies.  And if we are honest with ourselves, even an enemy’s criticism may hint at some secret deficiency on our part, and may cause us to redouble our corrective efforts at self-improvement.  As the philosopher Diogenes (Diog. Laert. VI.46) noted, we often permit attacks on ourselves by our own improper conduct:

To a young man who complained of the number of people who annoyed him by their attentions he said: ‘Cease to hang out a sign of invitation.’

Rare is it that some evil befalls us that we did not in some way allow to occur.  Reflection on our  contribution to our misfortunes will bring increased awareness of our own self-destructive conduct.  Finally, it may also be that our enemy has positive virtues of his own, worthy of our own imitation or instruction.  Give credit where it is due.  To be blinded by hate or anger is to miss an opportunity for reflection on how we may improve our own lot.

When we are the target of abuse, our first impulse will be recklessly to respond in kind to the abuser; but calmer reflection may teach us to seek out what was the source of the criticism.  By so identifying it, we may correct some flaw within ourselves.  Even enemies have eyes, and may see us with more clarity than friends.  Our lovers, family, and friends will hesitate to be too honest with us.  Affection clouds objectivity.  As Plutarch says, quoting Antisthenes (De capienda ex inimicis utilitate, vi.):

And so [it has been] said well that those who wish to lead a good life ought to have genuine friends or red-hot enemies; for the former deterred you from what was wrong by reproof, the latter by abuse.

An enemy’s slanders also will cause us to take note how odious words of vituperation and calumny can be, so that we may avoid such mistakes ourselves.  I remember when I began my career of arguing court cases.  In those days, I would feel it necessary to respond to every insult, every slight, believing that such tit-for-tat tactics were necessary to get my point across.  It was only later that I began to realize that allowing myself to descend into the mosh pit of mud-slinging accomplished very little, and detracted from the legitimate merits of my argument.  Gradually, I learned to let my arguments speak for themselves.  I avoided all intemperate speech and action in arguing my cases, and took care to let the effects of anger subside before responding to statements from the opposition.  In this way, my results improved dramatically.  Experience in dealing with hateful enemies also sharpens the edge of our courage, as confrontations become easier to bear with experience.  A virgin blade is of dubious keenness.


We should be thankful for an enemy who attacks us openly, since a man brandishing a drawn and raised dagger is easier to identify as an enemy than a man hiding a sheathed one.  There is no enemy more dangerous than the one who lies in wait.  As the number of bad characters we encounter in our lives is many, it is a good thing to be able to identify them as quickly as possible.  Few enemies in our lives will pay us the compliment of revealing their hostility openly.  They make our lives easier by declaring their intentions in advance.  A quote that illustrates this point well is again by Diogenes, of whom it is said (Diog. Laert. VI.50):

Being asked what creature’s bite is the worst, [Diogenes] said, ‘Of those that are wild, a sycophant’s; of those that are tame, a flatterer.’

Finally, an enemy can teach us the value of letting go of petty hostilities, and the redeeming virtue of forgiveness.  Who may be an enemy one day, may become a friend on another.  Few things are permanent in this world and, above all else, Fortune has a perverse sense of humor in making the unlikeliest of things possible.

Read More:  How To Forgive Your Family

27 thoughts on “How Our Enemies Can Help Us”

  1. Great article as always!
    Quintus, of all the writers here, you the best describe what is noble and divine in masculinity.

  2. There is also an admittedly immature satisfaction that comes from viewing our enemies. I was in Williamsburg the other night with a friend who returned to the city for a long overdue visit. He wanted to go to a local brewery.
    As I walked around and saw all the hipsters, I laughed inwardly to myself at just how much I excelled them in my appearance and speech, let alone mindset or anything else. These are the same people who get bothered on twitter all day.
    It’s somewhat juvenile, but these observations do increase your confidence. This is a relative world and they are exhibit A of what no self-respecting man should be like.

    1. Laughing at those types is hard to resist, and frankly at this stage in the game why shouldn’t we openly laugh at and mock them?

    2. There is definitely a fine line to walk in life. We want to be aware of the weaker pathways in life, which usually lead to pain and suffering. By the same token, don’t want to give these voices too much audience and rob ourselves of valuable time that could be spent on self-impovement.

  3. This article reminds me of the Bite of the Adder story in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The lesson there is to thank your enemy for performing an injustice on you because your enemy helped you learn something about yourself.

  4. I feel all of Quintus Curtius articles should be narrated in the guy with the eye patch from the movie, 300.
    This dude is epic.

    1. “The enemy outnumbers us a paltry three-to-one… good odds for any Greek!”

      1. Check out the you tube video “One Golden Dawn vs. 30 anarchists” and see that still holds true.

  5. Law 2
    Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies
    Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.

    1. You’re hanging out with the wrong people Rollo. A true friend can and will lay down his life on your behalf, as you would for him. Maybe things have changed for the younger people and nobody is willing to engage at this level of friendship any longer (doubtful, I know too many Afghanistan vets who can and have done such), but it exists nevertheless.
      The only place I’d see your “law” applying would be business/non-serious/political type “friendships” which are, at their core, rather effeminate, catty, backstabbing, passive-aggresive and for convenience only.

  6. Show me a man who has no enemies, and I’ll show you a man who has never stood up for anything in his life.

  7. When we let enemies dictate our reactions,
    and make us lose our composure, they gain the
    ultimate victory.
    The enemie’s criticism can only hurt us if we
    suspect it’s true.

  8. If it wasn’t for Muso Gonnosuke’s humiliating defeat at the skilled hands of Miyamoto Musashi, he would never have refineed the art of the Japanese short staff, the jo, a powerful and effective art he called Shindo Muso. He worked and trained constantly for years, even retreating into a monk like hermitage, his one goal to discover a method of overcoming Musashi’s unmatched defenses. Whether or not he actually defeated Musashi is still debated he left a strong vibrant legacy, and a powerful art still in use by the Tokyo Riot police today, and practiced the world over.
    Your greatest successes can come from your greatest defeats.

  9. QC finally fronts himself out as the jelq’ed out beta, indoctrinated fool participant for fiat dollars in the legal world that he should have had good sense to avoid in the first place. SMH. No wonder the alpha-beta dichotomy exists, when these are your so called prophets. RTK has been thoroughly infiltrated, deuces.

  10. Excellent article. Your rhetoric exudes the virtues of masculinity without romanticizing the reality of denial. Resistance is the catalyst to human strength.

  11. I grew up in a small town where my first introduction to what would become a true ‘arch-enemy’ from kindergarten through 12th grade was heralded by several rounds of rock throwing at each other. It didn’t get better between us over the next 13 years.
    We fought verbally and physically and he was one of the drivers for me to get into powerlifting and eventually he decided that I was a bit more then he was willing to try to take a piece of – until he would run his mouth a bit much and get beat down for it.
    He was the driving force behind me wanting to leave a town where the mantra was ‘My grandfather made $6.75 an hour at the factory, my dad makes $6.75 an hour at the same factory, and that’s what I’ll make when I get a job there’. I *had* to do more than what everyone else had planned for their lives.
    Eventually, we graduated together; he went on a full ride basketball scholarship only to earn a DUI and car accident his sophomore year (killing his scholarship) and wound up working a dead-end job back in our hometown at a local dog food warehouse and drinking at the same bar stool night after night until he died of alcoholism at 40. I went onto a career, marriage, 4 kids, and a divorce.
    Sometimes, we *need* that person in our lives as something to overcome, to be better than, to look back at them and say ‘F— you, you bastard, I outlived you, I out earned you, and I passed along my genes’.

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