For the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun, Irving Berlin wrote a song entitled Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly. The song was introduced in the original Broadway production by Ethel Merman and then later in the film version of the musical by Betty Hutton. In the song, Annie Oakley, her brother, sisters, and the owner of the Wilson Hotel sing jokingly about how the Oakley family and their community live happy lives despite their lack of education and, often, money. They just did what was natural for them.
But sometimes we have to do more than what comes naturally to us. We have to do something that is UNnatural to us. We all love people who love us, but how about those who are not easy to love, or those who do not love us at all – our enemies? Loving such people, it would seem to me, is to do the UNnatural thing.
Thomas Merton, who was not only a Trappist monk, but also a poet, a social activist, a student of comparative religion, and the author of numerous works on spirituality made the observation that “if we could see with the eyes of God, our problem would be that we would fall down and worship one another!” In other words, we will only experience the breadth of God’s all-encompassing and unconditional love if we, too, acquire the habit of loving.
This habit will require a real renewal of our minds and attitudes. We must allow ourselves to be transformed to love with a deep, broad, and high love. While there is certainly a place for righteous anger, we will be far more effective and fruitful if we are motivated by love and mercy rather than by anger and frustration.
Whom do we find it hardest to love? For some people, it is natural to want to love the underdogs of our society, but we need to look deeper into our hearts for those whom we find it difficult to love, such as people with different values than ours, or people whom we cannot imagine changing.
There is an old Irish curse that speaks to that point. It goes like this:
May those who love us, love us. And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts,
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles, So we may know them by their limping.
That curse is often the sentiment of people other than the Irish, of course. That curse is our natural reaction to those whom we identify as our enemies. Nevertheless, one of the distinguishing virtues that we can develop is the UNnatural virtue of possessing the capacity to love their enemies.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
So then, how does that thought play out in reality? Ernest Gordon answers that question in his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, a sobering but ultimately uplifting account of life in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. Gordon, a Captain of the Scottish Argyles, along with other soldiers, was captured by the Japanese and forced to build the famous railroad and bridge on the River Kwai. One afternoon, a shovel was missing. The Japanese officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When no one budged, the officer pulled out his pistol and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious to the soldiers that the officer meant what he said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his pistol, picked up a shovel, and brutally beat the man to death. When the beating was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse of their comrade and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing.
Indeed, the officer had miscounted the first time. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! The incident had a profound effect on the men in the camp. The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons every one of them, lined up in front of their captors and instead of attacking their enemy, the survivors insisted: “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.” Sacrificial love had transforming power. It was a case of doing what comes UNnaturally.
Some psychologists tell us that what we hate in our enemies is often actually what we hate in ourselves – which, of course, raises the question, who is the real enemy? Walt Kelly was profoundly correct when he gave his comic strip character Pogo, the possum in the Okefenokee Swamp, the answer to that question in these immortal words: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” More than any other words written by Kelly, those insightful words perfectly sum up the foibles of humankind, the nature of the human condition, and the need to do what comes UNnatur’lly .