“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.
12 thoughts on “On Dealing with Frustrating People”
Long time since we met in Breda! I read your post on linked-in and your blog.
This blog reminded me of a subject in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches the principle ‘Obaitori’ which means that everyone is unique. Similar to the quote of Marcus Aurelius, Nichiren Daishonin, a Buddhist monk, uses the metaphor of different flowering trees to explain this principle : A cherry doesn’t need to and can’t change into a peach.
It made me think: How can I accept myself for who I am, and others for who they are. And how can I communicate with others, knowing this.
Nice to read how you put this into practice. And a reminder for me to do the same.
If you are interested, you can read more about it here: https://www.sginl.org/?p=12801
Breda is a while back indeed, haha. Thanks for your comment and the recommendation. I definitely want to read up and learn more about Buddhism as well. There are a lot of similarities with Stoicism. I also liked the example from Buddhism you gave.
Thank you for reading my work. Hopefully, I can add some more Buddhist-related posts as well, as soon as I learn more about it.
Such a great post! We always expect others to bend to our will but we don’t feel the need to bend ourselves. If we do bend our will, we believe that all of the heavens should stop. Take notice of the fig try, just enjoy it for what it is and don’t expect it to change, for better or for worse. Amazing post! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for your comment, Tim. That’s exactly what is it or at least how I use it.
Another great post Benny. MA has a similar quote which I also like along the lines of: when you rise in the morning tell yourself you will encounter jerks… They are like me, not in birth or blood but in mind, and we all have a share of the devine within us.
Anyone got any tips on how to maximise the space between stimulus and response? Sometimes when I’m triggered I don’t have time to think or breath before I’ve already reacted.
Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it. That other quote you mentioned goes like this: “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” and it continues a bit more.
I completely understand your question about delaying the response. The way I see it, it is all about training yourself. Find out what triggers a certain response and then try different things that could help you stop your reaction. For example, take a deep breath. It’s a discovery into yourself.
Thanks again for the comment!
What a great piece. I identify myself a lot with stoicism and lately it shows how I miss to be in touch with it. Thanks for sharing this insight in such a delightful way. I’m going to binge on your blog more often as it’s kind of rare to bump into a stoic blogger.
Thank you for those nice words, Vanessa. I really appreciate your view and this will motivate me to continue my exploration. It’s great to hear from others who can identify with stoicism and philosophy in general. And I’m going to keep reading your blog as well, as I need some of the tips in my life. haha.
This is an interesting take on dealing with annoying people. The philosophy behind it sounds good. I have started overreacting to situations now, respecting what the other person is thinking behind their behavior.
Thanks Nithin for your comment. I appreciate hearing your view and that it is something your recognize in your life.
Very good post. I love the way you explain this and I will put this into practice. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your comment. Hopefully it will be just as useful to you as it was to me to live a more peaceful life.