Here, Buddha does not sugarcoat things; he doesn’t pretend that every single person you’ll come across would be an angel and be loving and respectful to you. This is wishful thinking! He gives it to you straight that most people lack courtesy and will hurt you in one way or the other. However, it’s you who decides how much you’ll allow yourself to get hurt, and how you’ll respond to such negative occurrences. Be like the mighty elephant, and just shrug off rude words and unkind behavior, and move on.
In essence, Buddha is trying to teach us that we must be prepared for a certain amount of impoliteness, disrespect and harshness in our personal relationships. We must do so not because people are bad and lack courtesy but because they go through times when they fail to control their minds. Since we’re no exception to these kinds of occurrences (we’re humans after all), we must learn to forgive others as easily as we forgive ourselves.
Even Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote these lines in his journal in the same vein:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”
The best strategy then is to practice kindness and restraint whenever you encounter difficult people or upsetting situations. Just be like the elephant and keep marching forward regardless of the circumstances. As Easwaran guides, “If we want not to be upset by rude words and unkind behavior, the answer is for us to be courteous and kind. It may not have an immediate effect on those around us, but with practice it becomes a shield so strong that other people’s behavior will not bother us at all.”
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