“That sort of person is bound to do that. You might as well resent a fig tree for secreting juice. (Anyway, before very long you’ll both be death – death and soon forgotten.)”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, book 4.6
Whenever people ask me how I make use of all this philosophy that I read, I give them this example. It was the first quote that I actively applied in my life and it made a significant change in my attitude towards my surroundings. From that moment, I started reading these texts with a different mindset.
The first time I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius was while I was working a job that was very stressful and took its toll both physically and mentally. Moreover, the people I had to work with made it all just that little bit more difficult by adding office politics and personal intrigues.
Therefore, when I read the sentence: “That sort of person is bound to do that.” – I immediately pictured a specific person. The second part of this quote made me realize that this person was just doing his part. He was living according to his nature, much like a fig tree. The idea of being angry at a tree for doing what it does and will continue to do made me aware of the absurdity of my frustration. Then the reference to both our unavoidable deaths made these encounters seem so insignificant that it put a smile on my face.
The visual imagery of being angry at a tree showed me that the problem was with me and how I approached the situation. It taught me that instead of being angry with the other person; I should train myself to see the situation for what it is.
Take a deep breath
From that moment on, anytime I met this person and the usual tricks appeared I was able to recognize them. I then told myself that this was the tree showing his nature. Ever since I have managed to control my impressions of other people’s behavior a lot better. It helped me make better decisions on my interactions and reactions to them. Now there are many moments where I find myself thinking: “Ah, here is the fig tree.” I then take a deep breath and act according to what the situation requires without letting it disturb my inner peace.
Can you picture a person in your life who sometimes just makes your blood boil? Is their behavior consistent and can you recognize some patterns? Can you try to predict what they might do? As you imagine a situation with this person, think of the moment where you identify the conduct that frustrates you. And then just laugh at it. For it is not them that frustrate you, but it is you allowing yourself to become frustrated. Would you touch the juice from the fig tree again after you have learned that it is sticky and difficult to remove?
There it is…
Try to put this into practice with one specific person you know who triggers these reactions in you. The next few times you engage with this person, focus on the behavior that annoys you. As soon as you identify it, laugh and tell yourself: “There it is. Her nature shows and this is how she must act. I will not let this attach itself to me. And anyway, before very long we’ll both be death – death and soon forgotten.”
After reading this reflection on Dealing with Frustrating people, based on a quote from Marcus Aurelius, you might also want to learn about other ancient Stoics, like Epictetus, Seneca, or a more recent one like Michel de Montaigne. If find it difficult to be in a crowd or busy setting, learn here how I deal with them in my reflection: On Dealing With the General Public. Find out more about Stoicism.