In ancient Greece and Rome, the Stoics, a group of philosophers who preached the value of emotional resilience — and whose teachings have plenty of modern-day devotees — urged adherents to let insults go. “Many have taken small injuries much more seriously to heart than they need,” wrote the Stoic philosopher Seneca. “The best revenge,” advised fellow Stoic and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, “is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
Quite often, I’ve found, what we thought is an insult, wasn’t one:
One day, a bus driver went to the bus garage, started his bus, and drove off along the route. No problems for the first few stops – a few people got on, a few got off, and things went generally well.
At the next stop, however, a big hulk of a guy got on. Six feet eight, built like a wrestler, arms hanging down to the ground. He glared at the driver and said, “Big John doesn’t pay!” and sat down at the back.
Did I mention that the driver was just five feet three, thin, and basically meek? Well, he was. Naturally, he didn’t argue with Big John, but he wasn’t happy about it.
The next day the same thing happened – Big John got on again, made a show of refusing to pay, and sat down. And the next day, and the one after that, and so forth. This grated on the bus driver, who started losing sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him. Finally he could stand it no longer. He signed up for body building courses, karate, judo, and all that good stuff. By the end of the summer, he had become quite strong; what’s more, he felt ready to take on Big John.
So on the next Monday, when Big John once again got on the bus and said, “Big John doesn’t pay!,” the driver stood up, glared back at the passenger, and screamed, “And why not?”
With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, “Big John has a bus pass.”
How like the driver we are.
We think every statement to be an insult. We look at ourselves and instead of seeing in ourselves a good person, we feel ourselves to be a mere five feet three and everybody around six feet tall and taking advantage.
We scowl at neighbor. Yell at colleagues and think the world laughs at us.
We grit our teeth, learn karate, buy a bigger car, larger house, and still wonder why they laugh.
“What’s so funny?” we finally ask.
“Nothing,” they say puzzled.
“Then why are you laughing at me?”
“But we’re not laughing at you, we’re smiling at a good clean happy day!”
Moral of this piece:
Be sure there is a problem in the first place before working hard to solve one, especially if it’s an insult you are scowling over..!
Robert Clements is a newspaper columnist and author. He blogs at www.bobsbanter.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org