Enemies or Adversaries, which do more harm?

passion in business

Enemy or Adversary

Who causes you more stress, your enemies or adversaries?

Can you distinguish between the two? If you can, I suggest you are in a minority in our modern society. You have developed more resilience to irritating distractions than most.

These questions were partly prompted by the subject of my last post, partly by the acrimonious level to which politics seems to have reached and partly by the toxic tone of some commentators on blogs and social media.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions are:

Adversary: “One that contends with, opposes or resists”.


  1. “One that is antagonistic to another. Especially one seeking to injure, overthrow or confound an opponent” 
  2. “Something harmful or deadly”
  3. “A military adversary”

It could be argued that the difference between the two is only one of degree. An enemy seeks to injure, is something harmful or deadly, compared to an adversary merely contending, opposing or resisting.

In reality it is a little more complicated, we generally think of competitors in sports events as adversaries not enemies, but in contact sports like boxing and hockey, there is a very real intent to injure an opponent.

I believe the difference is one of our own attitude and getting the two confused creates unnecessary stress in our lives.

The historic differentiation was that opponents in sports, domestic politics, romantic relationships, science, philosophy and our own religions were adversaries. Enemies were people, countries or organisations threatening our physical or financial survival, national security, religion or fundamental values of right and wrong.

The digital age of information overflow and the ease with which anyone with internet access can broadcast his or her opinions to billions of people has created more opportunities for us to elevate those with opposing opinions to the status of enemies.

I purposely publish controversial opinions on this blog and in social media, with my background and experiences from spending most of my life in Africa, I have a different perspective from most North Americans and Europeans. I expect to get opposition to my opinions, I can understand some readers disagreeing strongly with me and putting their disagreements in writing. I am happy to read their opinions, I may consider their comments adversarial but I do not believe that we are enemies.

In sports, we generally leave our battles on the field, no matter how hard we may have competed during the contest, we should be able to relax and have a beer afterwards. That used to be the case in politics and civilized debate both verbal and in print.

Sadly those days seem to have been washed away in the tidal wave of political correctness that has swept over Western society. Now, unless one follows the accepted soft line, one is immediately branded an enemy.

Elevating someone with a different opinion to enemy status costs us more time and mental fatigue than it does them. We end up increasing our own stress levels, not theirs.

We can let old enemies affect us for years after the real or apparent danger they represented has passed.

Most of us would agree that someone pointing a gun at us and threatening to kill us should be considered an enemy. Opinions are just opinions no matter how firmly held and justified. It’s worth remembering that if two people hold opposing opinions on a given subject, they could both be completely wrong, the reality could be something entirely different.

We are responsible for our own thoughts, by not according adversaries the status of enemies, we can avoid unnecessary stress, live happier lives and contribute to making the world a better place.

Do you let real or perceived enemies cause you more anxiety than they should?

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Peter Wright


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  2 comments for “Enemies or Adversaries, which do more harm?

  1. Roberta
    March 16, 2013 at 9:00 am

    I see I am a little late commenting on this post as you have another up already. It has been a busy week for me.

    There is a fine distinction between adversary and enemy in today’s world. Many folks do not seem to know the difference and use the words as synonyms.

    There are few things I enjoy more than a forthright, open, and honest discussion or debate on an issue with no anger or yelling. Passion yes. Anger, no. Just discussing for the purpose to openly examine all sides of an issue with the purpose of understanding the issue, learning something new, and perhaps solving a problem or issue.

    I seldom see this on TV today. These so called TV types of “debate” are for entertainment not education or enlightenment. Even on FOX News too often people just yell and talk over each other and in the end I have learned nothing new. Does anyone even debate anywhere anymore? Do they teach debate in schools?

    I will end with a quote that has little to nothing to do with your post or my comment:

    “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of
    our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • March 20, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Thank you for your comment Roberta. I like your question about the teaching of debate in schools. I remember that we not only had a debating society at high school, but were required to take part in debates as part of our English classes. I will ask a teacher friend if debating is part of the school curriculum here.

      I know only too well the veracity of your Martin Luther King quotation.

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