How should we deal with nasty people?
Though animated, she spoke softly. Isabel wanted to know how to deal with nasty people. “You know what I mean,” she said, “loudmouths, braggarts, hypocrites, gossipers, and troublemakers. How do you deal with people who are judgmental, manipulative, argumentative, nerve-racking, thoughtless, or pretentious?”
“I have no problem getting along with my friends,” she added, but what do you do when a co-worker, neighbor, or family member is obnoxious? I constantly have to deal with unpleasant people and just don’t know what to do. Any ideas?”
“Here’s a little story told by Anthony de Mello (1931 ~ 1987),” her companion said. “See if it helps answer your question.”
“What is the greatest enemy of Enlightenment?” “Fear.” “And where does fear come from?” “Delusion.” “And what is delusion?” “To think that the flowers around you are poisonous snakes.” “How shall I attain Enlightenment?” “Open your eyes and see.” “What?” “That there isn’t a single snake around.”
Isabel frowned and said, “It’s a nice story, but what do you do when there ARE snakes or despicable people around?”
“Well,” her friend explained, first we need to check our vision and try to discover whether we are asleep or awake. You see, the world is a garden. When you look around, do you see flowers or do you see worms, bugs, ants, and vermin? People are flowers, not snakes.
Another important point is elegantly expressed in a Hindu poem that was translated by Ravindra Kumar Karnani. His title for the poem is “And A Meadow Lark Sang.” I will quote a few lines of the poem to make the point.
”Touch me God, and let me know you are here!’ Whereupon God reached down And touched the child. But the child brushed the butterfly away And walked away unknowingly.”
People are not only flowers; they are butterflies. When you brush them away, you are brushing away God. How can it be otherwise? For we are all children of the one Creator.
We make the greatest spiritual progress when we master the most difficult teachings. Perhaps no other teaching is as difficult to understand as Christ’s “Turn the other cheek.” Before I quote it, let me point out that if Shakespeare and Dr. Phil (McGraw) were to comment on the same subject, the effect would be different. When reading the words of Shakespeare, we may say, “That’s a beautiful verse,” yet, when reading Dr. Phil’s comments, we are more apt to say, “Wow, that’s profound and useful advice.” The difference is easy to understand. After all, Shakespeare’s writings are over 400 hundred years old, so they may appear formal and stilted. In contrast, Dr. Phil speaks and writes in a modern, down-to-earth, punchy style that grabs our attention. So, for you to grasp the full impact of Christ’s teaching, I’m going to quote Professor Eugene Peterson’s translation of the New Testament, which is called “The Message,” or MSG for short. His translation is written in a “Dr. Phil” style. Here is how Christ answers the question on how to deal with nasty people.
“If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. I tell you, love your enemies.
“Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never – I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.” (Luke 6:29 ~ 6:37, MSG)
The teachings of Buddha are also difficult. Here is an example taken from Chapter One of the Dhammapada (teachings of Buddha):
“‘Look how he abused me and beat me, How he threw me down and robbed me.’ Live with such thoughts and you live in hate. ‘Look how he abused me and beat me, How he threw me down and robbed me.’ Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.”
A disciple asked Buddha, “How can you forgive someone who robbed you?” “What would you have me do,” answered Buddha, “should I also give the robber my remaining possession: my peace of mind?” When we hang on to hostility, anger, and discontent, we become thieves, robbing ourselves of happiness. I like the way Malachy McCourt expressed the same idea, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
The love that Christ and Buddha talk about is unconditional. But the manner in which many of us express our love is conditional. It is based on the premise “If you behave the way I want you to, I will love you.” The problem with such thinking is that if we cannot accept others as they are, we cannot accept ourselves as we are. When we condemn others because of their flaws, we unwittingly condemn ourselves because of our faults. So, unconditional love is not only the RIGHT way to act; it is the SMART way to act.
You see, our psychological well-being and peace of mind depend on us becoming vessels of unconditional love. It is our nature to love. When we become unable to love unconditionally because of distorted or judgmental thinking, we experience pain. Contrary to common belief, suffering is not caused by the fact that others do not love us. Rather, it is caused by the fact that we do not love others. Once we stop judging people, we’ll be able to see the good they have to offer and we’ll be able to return to our natural state of love.
Summing up, how do we deal with nasty people? We begin by awakening to the truth that there are no nasty people; there are just people. Some are asleep. Some are awake. Some are somewhere in-between. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Which group am I in and what will I do about it?” Confucius (551 ~ 479 BC) tells us what we can do about it, “The rule of life is to be found within yourself. Ask yourself constantly, ‘What is the right thing to do?'”