Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.

            One familiar proverb reads as follows: “Not all that glitters is gold.” Another well accepted saying is: “Actions speak louder than words.” This one is virtually found in every nation with slight changes or modifications. The Romans, for example, used to say: “Aliud est theoria, aliud est practica – one thing is theory, another thing is practice.” On the other hand, the Italians often state: “Parole si, fatti no – words yes, facts no.” All of these have the same identical meaning.
Nature of People in General
            When the Master Teacher found it necessary to describe the human being as to enable to understand ourselves better, He said clearly: Homo hominis lupus – man is a wolf of man, meaning the human being is his own worst enemy. In view of this, we need to set up new criteria for judging those around us individually and collectively. Everything boils down to the character and personality of the individual. The height and weight, one’s own age and good looks, as well as the academic achievements and good paying jobs cannot really serve as criteria to classify people into true friends or confirmed enemies.
            Friends are best measured by the degree of virtues they may care to demonstrate on a systematic basis. Among others, we may enlist humility, prudence, patience, perseverance, charity, and dedication to the service of others. Humility consists of one’s ability to recognize and admit one’s mistakes with a willingness to listen to others and to learn from them to the best of one’s ability. Prudence is revealed in one’s ability to weigh carefully alternatives before jumping into conclusions. As the proverb says, “Look before you leap.”
            Patience is a very important virtue for as the French say: Avec la patience on s’arrive a touts – With patience one arrives everywhere. Throughout history we discover that many problems were eventually solved properly and effectively through the practice of patience. Perseverance is noticed in one’s ability never to give up in the pursuit for the solution of encountered problems.
            Charity reveals concern for others as to help them in a number of ways. Very often those who perform acts of charity do so at the cost of self-sacrifice. One of the songs found in the Gregorian chant states: Ubi est amor, Deus ibi est – where there is love there is God. In ascetical writings, charity is identified with love. In one’s dedication to others we have individuals who view the welfare of others as their life’s mission. No wonder why in one proverb we find that “a true friend is with you in danger.” In other words, we can always trust genuine friends since they prove to be really faithful. In fact, they often become the source of our hope and consolation.
Friends and Enemies in Perspective
            True friends reveal interest not in the good of some to the exclusion of others but in the universal welfare of all people. They are by nature humanitarians who proved to be highly reliable. In politics, this is where the line is drawn between statesmen and politicians. Statesmen tend to take interest in the universal welfare of all people with the exclusion of no one. On the other hand, politicians tend to reveal interest in the welfare of some to the exclusion of others. In other words, in the sphere of politics we may view statesmen as genuine friends of all people from every walk of life and profession.
            Enemies are viewed to be those who directly or indirectly perform actions that in some way or another are conducive to our discomfort and harm. Unlike true friends, enemies tend to generate negative and destructive energy. Regardless of their exterior looks, deep inside they tend to harbor jealousy, anger, vindictiveness, and hatred in various ways. They feel upset when they notice we have been showered with blessings and they rejoice when they discover we are going through a period of desolation, frustration, and pain. Besides, they would do anything in their power to deprive us of happiness, which may be viewed as a great gift of God.
            In addition, enemies do not believe in forgiveness and worse still, they tend to judge others by the way they are. They tend to believe that the whole world is going to get after them to damage or destroy their material objects they are attached to in various ways. Moreover, they always try to find a way to blame others for the results of their negative and destructive actions. Just as friends are measured by their character and personality in terms of the virtues they exhibit, enemies are measured likewise by their character and personality in terms of the vices they demonstrate.
           Vices are the opposite of virtues. Among such vices we find infernal pride, arrogance, impatience, lack of trust or unreliability, hatred, and selfishness, which ignores the needs of others. Pride in itself may be viewed as virtue especially when we feel proud of ourselves or others for an eventual success that was achieved. However, infernal pride is something else. It consists of lack of humility, that is, of lack of one’s ability to admit mistakes while expressing regret and asking for forgiveness.
          Arrogance is revealed in those who try to get what they want by all means, regardless of whether or not it is right. This vice forces one to ignore all kinds of advices or counseling that are not conducive to their frame of mind. A brief analysis of all major wars in history may be traced to the arrogance revealed in those responsible for the waging of such wars. Another vice that we notice in enemies almost systematically is that of impatience. This enables us to understand the wisdom of the French proverb we mentioned earlier: Avec la patience on s’arrive a touts – with patience one arrives everywhere. Ascetical writers tell us that if God were not patient with us, the human race would have been exterminated quite a few thousands of years ago.
Developing Good Intuition
            Needless to say, enemies can feign to be friends in quite a number of times. Even so, there comes a time were their mask is uncovered. Sooner or later, they will show that they are not trustworthy that they are unreliable for all practical purposes. In the spiritual sphere, their hidden hatred may be viewed as their weakest trace in their character and personality. What we need to do here is simply to hear them how they tend to talk of others, especially those whom they do not like out of inferiority complex or jealousy in particular. Enemies tend to be selfish, that is, they concentrate mainly on getting what they want by all means, even at the expense of others.
            Pope John Paul II viewed communism and capitalism as the greatest two evils of the 20th century because, he said, both advanced their causes through exploitation of people. In other words, both communists and capitalists could be rightly viewed as the enemies of the people in general, as our enemies as a matter of fact. Regardless of their façade, they were instrumental in different ways to make millions of people suffer brutally and mercilessly. Those that come to help us in time of need must be considered as our genuinely true friends. On the other hand, those that not only refuse to help us in time of need but also take steps to hurt us should be viewed as our confirmed enemies.
            When we come across people whom we do not know as yet but we would like to size them up fast in terms of being potentially true friends or enemies, let us hear what they have to say about others systematically. If they demonstrate goodness, love and mercy as well as readiness to be of help the best they can, we know these would likely make very good friends of us. However, if they reveal to be highly critical where we could depict a degree of hatred and detestation, we know our close association with them would be bound to be detrimental.
          All the good people of history that were viewed as highly beneficial and friendly to everyone had always something good to say about everyone, even about those that persecuted them. In the social sphere of life, we would act wisely if we were to avoid the company of potential enemies and to seek for the company of true friends.


Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
– President, International Association of Educators for World Peace, NGO Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education, Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
– Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Apr 2009.

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