It's easy to treat people well when they treat you well. The real test is when they treat you badly.
Think of times you've been truly wronged, in small ways or big ones. Maybe someone stole something , turned others against you, broke an agreement, cheated on you, or spoke unfairly or abusively.
When things like these happen, I feel mad, hurt, startled, wounded, sad. Naturally it arises to want to strike back and punish, get others to agree with me, and make a case against the other person in my own mind.
These feelings and impulses are normal. But what happens if you get caught up in reactions and go overboard? (Which is different from keeping your cool, seeing the big picture, and acting wisely - which we'll explore below.) There's usually a release and satisfaction, and thinking you're justified. It feels good.
For a little while.
But bad things usually follow. The other person overreacts, too, in a vicious cycle. Other people - relatives, friends, co-workers - get involved and muddy the water. You don't look very good when you act out of upset, and others remember. It gets harder to work through the situation in a reasonable way. After the dust settles, you feel bad inside.
As the Buddha said long ago, "Getting angry with another person is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned." You can see much the same thing internationally. Gandhi put it so well: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
Sure, you need to clarify your position, stand up for yourself, set boundaries, speak truth to power. The art - and I'm still working on it, myself! - is to do these things without the fiery excesses that have bad consequences for you, others, and our fragile planet.
Start by getting centered, which often takes just a dozen seconds or so:
And now that you're on firmer ground, here are some practical suggestions; use the ones you like:
Then, if it would be useful, you can make a request for the future. Some examples: "If I bother you, could you talk with me directly?" "Could you not swear at me?" "Could you treat your agreements with me and your children as seriously as you do those at work?"
In the garden of your life, you have to pull some weeds, sure, but mainly focus on planting flowers.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 20 languages) and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 8 languages). Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter - Just One Thing – has over 36,000 subscribers, and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.