This week at the Vihara a lady asked Venerable Koppakande Sumanajothi, “How should we deal with people who wrong us?” She proceeded to explain a bit about how she feels anger and it is difficult to not respond immediately, and sometimes not very nicely, in situations where another person is unfair in the way they speak or act towards her.
Bhante explained that this feeling was natural, but went on to ask us if we usually even remembered these sorts of situations hours or days afterward, to which we all thought and replied in the negative.
It is an interesting thing to consider; that often, when someone wrongs us in daily life, whether we react immediately to it or not, we rarely think about these occurrences again… they are lost in the myriad of other, more interesting (and more powerful) memories in our minds.
On this particular occasion, I broke my usual silence and took the opportunity to share my thoughts on the matter. You see, when I’m out or at work and someone gets rude with me, I take great care to not respond to “them” anymore, at least not in the direct, personal sense. I shared that, my observation is that people lash out at others for various [real or imaginary] reasons because they themselves are suffering, just like me.
What I’m getting at is, due to their own inability to deal with their suffering in a constructive, skillful way, they release it in whatever way they can and sometimes these means are not helpful to others. They yell at other people and try to get these people to conform to some way of being that is less irritating to them, just like I might when my son wakes up our sleepy baby. I try to reflect on the “real” potential reasons for their anger and hurt, and even if I can’t do anything about that, it helps me realize that I don’t have to own their anger and make it my own.
Sometimes this sort of reflection doesn’t help the situation, in and of itself, but will make my own mental state less cluttered with thoughts of “why me?” or “how can I get them to stop bugging me?” or other such thoughts that are particularly unhelpful, like those that might lead me to quip back angrily at them.
After the talk, when we were leaving, this lady came to me and thanked me for what I had said, so I suppose it might have been helpful. I hope it was, anyway, because I really don’t want to make a habit of speaking up with useless words when I’d do better to be listening to Venerable Koppakande. Ha!
So, how often do you think about the people who come to you in anger? Not think about their actions, but think about the person who is suffering behind the actions… When you do, do you realize their suffering personally and do the hardest thing: show some measure (whatever your ability) of compassion for them even when they can’t show you the same? If you exercise your compassion in this way, you will find that it strengthens and grows like muscles do when they are properly exercised, and unlike muscles, compassion has an unlimited potential strenth.
I hope you are well today and may you find peace, my friends. I will write again soon.