The Savior once taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (see Matthew 5:43-45). Then and since, His followers have had some pretty intense persecution to overcome. I feel fortunate that I don’t have what I would consider any serious enemies to threaten me (at least not that I know about). However, I do have a story to tell about an opponent I once had.
Several years ago, I became involved in a legal dispute. The dispute was not with me, per say. My name was legally attached to a title, as co-owner of a piece of property. The dispute was really between the other owner and a service hired to make some improvements on the property. I was aware, from the sidelines, of what was happening, but was largely uninvolved in it.
That is, until the day I received the summons.
When the argument escalated to a point that one of the parties felt it could not be resolved, he filed a lawsuit against the owners of the property – which included me. When the court’s clerk delivered a document requiring that I appear in court and sit at the defense table, I became intimately involved.
From what I knew of the story (which was told to me by the other property owner), I didn’t feel that there was a need to go before a judge. I thought things could have been worked out; but apparently the plaintiff felt differently.
Over that month, I listened carefully to the story, as it was told to me by the other property owner. I met with a lawyer briefly, and explained how much I didn’t know about the case. Mostly, however, in that period of waiting for our court appearance, the issue naturally nagged upon me and caused me a little concern. It concerned me how the judgment might affect me if it went the other way. It annoyed me that I needed to take time out to do this. It irritated me that the other party felt he needed to press a lawsuit to satisfy the dispute. I had never met this individual, and I was not directly involved with the dispute, yet I was being sued at the law.
During that time, I continued on with life, family, and employment. At work I continued to serve customers at a retail store. I did my best to compartmentalize that portion of my life, set it aside, and focus on my daily tasks.
Then a very interesting life test was given to me.
One day, a customer came through the front door. I greeted him as I would any other customer. I first noticed his baseball cap had on it the logo of the professional service that had pressed charges against me. His appearance seemed to match the physical description I had been given of our plaintiff.
He had come to the store with a possibly defective product. I invited him to the back, where we tested the item. While waiting for the tests, I slipped into the conversation casual questions such as “Who do you work for?” and “What do you do for them?” This customer’s answers confirmed that this man was indeed the owner of the business, and he was the one who had filed suit against me.
I was now in a very interesting and potentially powerful position: I knew his identity, but he did not know mine. My enemy stood before my face, outside of the field of battle.
I didn’t reveal my secret knowledge to him, but instead made the instant decision that I would serve him as if he was the most important client to my business. Even though it was eating me inside, I was going to do everything I could to treat him as a valued customer. I was going to show him the kindness and caring that I hoped he would in turn show toward his customers.
The product soon did fail its test, and I cheerfully replaced the item according to store policies. All the while I thought, ‘I know something that you don’t know!’
Following that, he selected some additional products to purchase. I began ringing them through the register, and gave him the total amount. It looked as if the encounter was winding down and about to end soon.
Then came the big test.
He choose to pay with a method of credit that required me to ask him for some very personal information. I provided him with the form; he filled out the information without hesitation. He provided a copy of his government-issued identification, which I photo-copied and attached to his application. I then completed the transaction, and he left the store a happy customer.
Meanwhile, I was left holding his identity. In my hands was a piece of paper that contained enough personal details that, if I choose, I could have used to steal his identity and bring immeasurable harm to him, for possibly years to come. To make the moment more interesting, the store was now experiencing a momentarily lull. No customers were waiting. It was just me holding the piece of paper. The other store employee (and my manager) was nearby, but not paying attention to me. I could easily have done anything with the paper in my hands and gone undetected.
I studied the paper, disbelieving this twist of fate that had been dropped in my lap.
I looked up at my friend and coworker, called his attention, and explained that the man whom I had just served was the same man who had filed a lawsuit against me.
The other employee stared back at me, also in disbelief at the odds of such a thing happening. At a glance, he recognized the paperwork I held in my hand, and the potential it had. He asked me what I would do.
There had never really been any question in my mind what I would do. My moral compass was clear on that. Every Sunday at church I partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, and renew a covenant to “always remember Him, and keep His commandments which He has given” me (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). I could not work ill to my neighbour and still walk honestly (see Romans 13:10-14). Even though I held the advantage, I could not take the advantage of my neighbor.
I walked the paperwork to the back room, and filed it in the proper place. At the end of the day, it was transferred to the main storage for such documents and I never saw it again.
The day of the court visit arrived, and I remember seeing my accuser again eye-to-eye. I’m pretty sure that he did a double-take, and I nodded and smiled back to his direction.
The outcome of the case was a draw – the judge decided that both parties shared equal fault. Unfortunately, the judge decided that the defense should pay the legal fees for it all.
But for my part, looking back today I consider the pre-trial experience a win.