Everyone knows someone whom they dislike. Everyone has at least one person, friend or foe, who challenges them and prevents them from doing “business as usual.” The greatest of these people in your life is your nemesis.
Our nemesis is someone who challenges us so profoundly that we cannot meet their challenge without making a profound shift in who we are. Because we are often unwilling to make that change, we defend against it. This gives the nemesis power, because he or she will always be able to use your immobility to defeat you.
Your nemesis may be someone close to you, even someone you love. If you are a martial artist, it may be your sensei who will always be able to throw you. The point is that the nemesis cannot be defeated until we surrender something that we consider non-negotiable.
Parents will often find that their children act as their nemeses. Many parents learn to surrender principles they never would have believed they could accept. They do this because their children bring them face to face with the dilemma they’ve always run from.
In fact, nemeses are offering us a gift by showing us something that, should we change it, may greatly empower us. Meeting the terms of the nemesis results in the gift. To defeat the nemesis and claim the gift, you must usually own that part of you that resembles them.
In my case I knew a stubborn man whose opinions struck me as ill-conceived and irresponsibly argued. He had, however, a certain elegance in his presentation, a good command of facts that suited his purposes, and a refusal to surrender. I greatly disliked the way he argued, and because I did not want to engage him on his own terms, in a bloody head-to-head with no surrender, I could never get him to admit defeat, nor could I ignore him.
My fear was that, should I decide to adopt his strategies and demolish his nonsense, I would cross a line and become what I despised, aggressive, obsessed with shallow presentation, and in love with winning. The real gift he was trying to give me, whether he knew it or not, was to recognize that I already had all of these characteristics and was constantly suppressing or failing to acknowledge them. Everyone knew this but me, of course, and my nemesis continues to help me to see it.
Ultimately, once I accept the unacceptable in order to defeat my nemesis, it is no longer necessary to defeat him. I am only drawn to the fight because I want to eliminate something objectionable to myself. Once I own that I am fighting myself instead of him, there is no fight.
From there, the interaction with the nemesis becomes a normal one. It transforms into a relationship rather than a battle. In my case, I can either engage or ignore my argumentative partner.
Nemeses are valuable, but they are never pleasant. I try not to be a nemesis as a teacher. I would prefer to bring my students to awareness without fomenting a crisis.
Nevertheless, my students will meet their nemesis at some point and, occasionally, it is me. If they run from me, they will find me again and again in different guises because, by denying a truth in themselves, they see it in others. We are extremely threatened by the appearance of what we find unacceptable, and so we have a heightened vulnerability to it.
Who is your nemesis? Have you been backed into a position of no surrender? What do you think you would have to give up to get out?