The world is full of people who malign, disparage, frustrate and ignore you. How do you handle that?
I’ve put up with a fair number of *ssholes in my time. Whiners, posers, liars, and assorted other bad actors are a daily diet in all of our life’s endeavors. I used to really let these knuckleheads get under my skin. I’d ruminate (and perseverate) about their stupidity, discourteousness, and lack of self-awareness. I’d spin endless cycles playing and replaying (and fantasizing) how I might deliver them their just deserts.
And then, one day, I revisited a favorite quote.
Marcus Aurelius, the closest the western world ever came to the Platonic ideal of a “philosopher-king,” would say this before getting out of bed each morning.
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil.
Upon further reflection, I believe everyone is doing the best they can and what they think they need to do most of the time. The science shows that 80% of our daily activities are executed unconsciously. We react to stimuli without much thought about our motivation or the impact of what we say and do.
How many times have you found yourself on the receiving end of being misinterpreted or misunderstood? Did you respond with outrage, frustration, or a self-pity party?
We often demand that we be extended the benefit of the doubt but are unwilling to extend the same to others. I know I’ve been guilty of this more often than I care to admit.
A mantra I’ve adopted to insert a pause when I catch myself about to hastily react to a perceived affront is to say, “People are fascinating…”
It helps because it’s true. People are fascinating. They are, and so are you. Each of us is complicated and conflicted–capable of heroism and villainy, kindness and cruelty, selflessness and selfishness. None of us is an absolute saint or outright sinner.
Accepting this complexity creates space to hold ourselves and each other with a bit more compassion and grace. Holding this tension opens the door for a healthier response rather than an unhelpful reaction. On the other side of that threshold lies equanimity, understanding, and a better way forward.
What might the world be like if each of us tried to assume no malicious intent in others more often?