“Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse. So when someone arouses your anger, know that it’s really your own opinion fueling it. Instead, make it your first response not to be carried away by such impressions, for with time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 20
The movie Road House has a place in my observations of this meditation. There are not many guys I know who do not view Road House as an epic tough guy B-movie. If you have not seen it I will give you the summary. Patrick Swayze plays James Dalton, a “cooler” (think of a bouncer) who uses Buddhism and philosophy to keep a level personality when dealing with the problems one encounters when keeping a bar/dance club safe from the drunk and ornery.
At one point in the movie, Dalton is sharing with the employees of a honky tonk club how to deal with patrons who are being difficult.
Steve: Being called a cocksucker isn’t personal?
Dalton: No. It’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.
Steve: What if somebody calls my mama a whore?
Dalton: Is she?
It’s a great reminder for us to consider what is being said. Is it true? Why is it offending us if it isn’t true? Or, what if it’s true? Should I get mad at someone speaking the truth, or should I, instead, focus on what I have discovered warrants my attention? Maybe, you’ll respond, the way they said it is offensive. Epictetus would tell us our reaction is all our own. If we decide not to let the tone bother us, it won’t. As I’ve expressed before, it may not be easy to do, but life will surely give us chances to perfect our thoughts.
Self-control can be achieved. Distance yourself from the passion, and give yourself time to consider how to react.