In countless little ways each day, we blame other people for our frustrations.
They irritate us, don’t do things the right way, are incompetent, rude, inconsiderate, bad drivers, too slow, not tidy, boring, uncaring.
And yet, we will always be frustrated if we stick to this mindset.
We will always be angry, offended, hurt, disappointed. There will be no end to the offenses humanity can take against us, as long as we decide that everyone else is wrong, all the time.
They’re not the problem.
The other person is never the problem.
This is a lesson I learned from Charlotte Joko Beck in her book, Everyday Zen. The problem is our reaction. The external event (someone is rude to you) will always happen, every day, often multiple times a day. We cannot stop others from being rude — but we can change how we react.
If we can react in a calmer, more peaceful manner, we will be happier. We will then act in a more compassionate way, smile, and perhaps the other person will be transformed just a little bit by this act of compassion.
Here’s a short guide to reacting peacefully:
1. When you notice yourself getting offended, frustrated, angry, irritated, disappointed … pause. Take a breath.
Don’t act. Acting in anger is harmful.
2. Examine the idea you have about how they should act. You are holding onto this idea, and it is in conflict with reality. As long as you hold onto fantasies that aren’t in line with reality, you will be frustrated. Try changing all of reality to match your expectations — let me know when you finally succeed.
3. Toss your expectation into the ocean. Smile. Accept the person in front of you, and yourself, as a flawed human.
4. Act with compassion. When you stop blaming the person for not acting perfectly, you can then respond appropriately, and with compassion. Accepting reality doesn’t mean you don’t take action — it just means you let go of the frustration. Instead, you can act appropriately, and be more centered in your actions.
Question: What if people you rely on are careless or irresponsible? Aren’t they the problem, then? Yes, the other person is careless or irresponsible. And this is reality — it will always be this way. You can’t change that, and so the question is, how will you deal with it? You can rage and get mad at them, or you can let go of expectations, breathe, and act appropriately within this reality.
Toss your expectations into the ocean, smile, and act with compassion. The other person, rude bugger that he is, will never see it coming.