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“I realize what I am suggesting is the most difficult thing in the world. It may cost you your life. But consider the alternative,” I said. The young man sitting before me had just returned from summer school. That day, he had finally stood up to the boys that were tormenting him. He stood up to the bullies.

The young man leaned in to his would-be attacker and whispered, “If you don’t start leaving me alone today, I’m gonna find you when you aren’t looking. I will find you when you are off campus and you don’t have your buddies around you. I’m gonna find you when you are vulnerable…and I’m gonna hurt you.” As such, they left him alone.

For now.

The young man sat across from me at his grandfather’s table. All the other men started to give him advise about taking boxing, tae kwon do, carrying a knife, and worrying about the school administration, police, and jail. The 15 year-old listened intently, and why wouldn’t he? After all, the men sitting around him were all aged, experienced, and world savvy. They of course had encountered similar bullies, they too had followed similar advice probably, and they are still here right? Why wouldn’t you listen?

After everyone gave their two cents, I chimed in. “There is a third alternative,” I suggested. “There is a third course of action that empowers you instead of limiting you. The other men at the table ear’s were pricked in curiosity. “I realize what I am suggesting is the most difficult thing in the world. It may cost you your life. But consider the alternative,” I said. “You could continue to do nothing, and forever become the brunt of their jokes and the pin cushion for their jibes. You could retaliate in kind, and possibly escalate the situation to level and place from which there is no return, meaning you or they could be hurt or imprisoned for your actions.”

“I realize,” I continued, “that up until this point in you life you have been told that fighting never solves anything, and two wrongs don’t make a right. But soon, when you are 18 you will have to register with selective service…because our country says, ‘All that stuff we told you in school was BS, fighting really does solve things. War brings peace.'”

“But I tell you there is a third way, and I would not advocate it unless I had not already lived it.”

“I tell you in earnest, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet it is central to every religion. Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Taoism, and even secular writers such as Aesop have advocated this path, but it is so damned difficult. I suggest to you…love your enemy.”

“I have done it, and I will not lie to you, it is hard. But, for me the key is to see them not as your enemy, but as your brother, to see them as yourself, and most importantly to see them as worthy of your love.”

“Find something about them that you can genuinely appreciate. Compliment them on that. If you know that they like donuts or motorbike magazines, bring them one. Love on them. Realize that the reason that they are not loving you is because they don’t know what it looks like. Teach them. Teach them what love looks like. Be the love in a situation that lacks it.”

“While running, I entered a convenience store near Atlanta, Georgia. I asked the store owner if I may fill my water bottles. The man granted me permission, and I filled my bottles and gave him a hearty thank you for the water.”

“As I was leaving he said, ‘That will be a dollar for the water.’ I remarked to him that he didn’t say anything about that when I originally asked, had I known that I wouldn’t have partaken of his water. I only had $2 dollars with me.”

“He spat back, ‘Nothing is free man. Everything in this country comes at a price.'”

“I walked up to the counter and gave him the dollar, and then I slid him my only other dollar to him as well. I said to him, ‘This is what generosity looks like. I only have two dollars, and I give you twice what you ask. I do it not to spite you, but to put your mind at ease. When the next person comes in your path with whom you can help, hopefully this dollar will make it easier.”

I continued to address the young man, “I tell you this story because you have a choice. I had a choice. I could have just given the man the dollar, I could have yelled at him, but I chose to love him and teach him what generosity looks like. You can continue to take their abuse, you can meet their violence and oppression with violence and oppression, but I suggest to you a third alternative…love them. As I taught and enabled the shop owner to love, teach and love your oppressors what love looks like. Enable them to love others. Sadly, they probably have never seen it.”

We all encounter bullies each day: the guy who flips you off on the freeway, the woman who is rude to you at the cleaners, the person at the call center who doesn’t want to give you the refund for which you are entitled. We each have the same choices this young man has—take it, retaliate, or love. Consider the lives of those whom follow each of these choices…which one would you like to adopt for yourself?

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