In our first example from ‘Street Stoicism’ (published in Poland as Stoicyzm Uliczny), Marcin Fabjanski applies Stoic philosophy to responding to rudeness. In this particular case, he uses the example of a rude shop assistant….
“Step aside will you, you’re blocking the queue!”. The shop assistant at the grocery store has no mercy on my attempts to unstick the plastic bag so that I can open it. Opening those bags has been my nightmare for years.
“Not everybody has such long nails, young lady, painted red during working hours…”. I bite my tongue right before saying it out loud.
Nonetheless, the situation develops as usual – badly. The people standing behind me in the queue immediately catch the shop assistant’s words. I can hear some ahems behind my back and then, obviously, a reproachful remark of another guy in the queue: ‘well this man doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry!’
This kind of behavior will not affect the speed of my packing the groceries in a positive way. Now I will unstick my bag slowly and ineffectively. Flauntingly slowly. All of you will stand in this queue for a while!
THE STOIC MAXIM
‘If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?’
Epictetus (trans. Elizabeth Carter)
How would you feel if you were a slave to every person you met in the street? If anybody could kick you, spit in your face or paw you, if they felt so inclined, with all impunity? How would you feel? Terrible?
Isn’t it terrible though that anybody can do whatever they like with your mind and – as a result – with your emotions? A driver who will sound their horn, a skinhead who will throw you a disdainful glance, a shop assistant who has not noticed the times of Real Socialism are over.
Aren’t you a slave to those people? And wouldn’t you feel a free man if you managed to stop reacting to what they do?
There is an oriental tale about a certain man who went to the market in an unfamiliar town. When he was there, a man whom he has never met before hurled a volley of abuse at him, insulting also his mother. Our hero got really upset. He was about to throw himself at the stranger and punch him when the local merchants explained to him that the man is a madman who lost his senses after losing his family. He yells like this at every passer-by. Anger left the hero of the tale in one second.
Rudeness is sort of a temporary madness. And madness is an illness – only an illness of the soul, not of the body. Should we be angry with ill people?
TAMING THE SITUATION
Ask yourself the question: would you be mad at an ill person if they coughed next to you? No – it’s not his fault that he caught a cold. Then why are upset by a rude shop assistant who coughs with grumpiness? He is also ill, and it is much more serious than a cold. Rude behavior is a disease of the soul caused by the virus of stupidity.
A Russian saying says : Don’t take any offense at the fools…
I am always trying to remember it in such situations but it is so easy to be carried away. Since I am reading Stoics I am improving ( hopefully).