What does it mean that attack is a call for love? (December 9, 2010)

One of the Course’s most immediately practical notions is that attack is really a call for love or a call for help (which is how it’s usually put). I think most of us find that that idea immediately softens our anger toward someone: “Oh, they’re just calling for love. So isn’t that what I should give them?”

However, as I have argued elsewhere, what the Course means by that idea is not what it may seem. For years, I took it as a statement that our true intentions are innocent. “When that person attacked me, he was not really out to hurt me. He was just looking for love.” Slowly, however, I realized that the “intent” interpretation ran head-on into direct statements from the Course, like this one: “No one attacks without intent to hurt” (W-pI.170.1:1).

What I slowly realized is that the Course has a whole other meaning in mind. I’ll call it the “loss” interpretation. This says that attack results in loss for the attacker. He thought that hurting another would result in gain, but instead it just brought him loss. His very loss calls for help, to get out of the pain. And this help should take the form of love, for his pain comes in the form of guilt, and love is the antidote for guilt. That is why attack is a “call for love.”

I find this to be an extremely practical idea. When I feel attacked, in the back of my mind I picture myself losing and my attacker correspondingly gaining. And that fosters ill feelings toward him, for the simple reason that only evil derives pleasure from the pain of others. Hence, if my attacker is actually gaining from my loss, actually feeling happier because of my pain, then there must be evil embedded in him. To see what I mean, picture someone inflicting pain on you and deriving immense pleasure from it, such that the more you hurt, the better he feels, the more intense his pleasure. If you really imagine this and carry it to an extreme, at a certain point the word “evil” will probably spring to mind.

The picture, however, changes entirely when you think of it this way: He didn’t gain. Underneath the superficial pleasure, he just deepened his disappointment in himself. He just stacked up another regret. He just added another notch to his self-loathing. He just compounded his fear that one day he’ll be consigned to hell. Therefore, he didn’t gain. He just lost. And in his loss, he deserves your compassion and your forgiveness. For his loss proves that it’s simply not in his nature to benefit from the loss of others. He is built in such a way that he gains or loses with them—gains from their gain or loses from their loss. He also needs your help, for he is in a pit of guilt from which he can’t seem to get himself out. He needs the hand of another to reach down to him. He needs the love of someone he thought he wronged to prove to him that maybe, just maybe, “his guilt is but the fabric of a senseless dream” (T-27.II.6:11). For in truth he hasn’t sinned; “he has merely failed to gain” (W-pI.133.9:3).

I encourage you to try this out. Next time you feel attacked, remind yourself, “She didn’t gain, she just lost. And so she needs my help and my love.” See if you don’t perceive your attacker in a new light.

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