Nobody Does Wrong on Purpose – So How to Be Tolerant & Kind?
Ever gotten angry at another person?
Bet you have.
What if I told you that they didn’t do it on purpose? They never do (even if it seems so).
Let me explain.
People act as they think is right. They don’t act wrongly on purpose. They simply don’t know any better and, bluntly, they don’t know what they’re doing.
Remember the story of Jesus when he was forced to bear his own cross? When he was beaten, flogged, stabbed, insulted, and spit on? When he was crucified next to two common criminals? When he watched soldiers roll dice to see who would get to keep his clothes?
What he said next, no matter your religious beliefs, will send chills down your spine. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don‘t know what they are doing.”
Now, this article is about why people act as they do, and why they don’t err on purpose. It’s about how to respond to mean and unfair people. And it gives you 9 strategies to respond in a kind and fair way to people who are acting out.
In the making of the article I learned why the French people I travelled with through New Zealand called me stupid when I paid even if I could have gotten away without paying. They thought that as long as you can get away without paying, you should. And they didn’t see anything wrong with that. So I shouldn’t have gotten angry with them, because they acted as they thought was right (even if it wasn’t).
Nobody Does Wrong Willingly
“When a man assents, then, to what is false, know that he had no wish to assent to the false: 'for no soul is robbed of the truth with its own consent,' as Plato says, but the false seemed to him true.” – Epictetus
We don’t act wrongly on purpose. We act how we think is right to act. We do what we think is the best thing to do, even if it’s not.
I learned about this idea that “nobody does wrong willingly (or knowingly)” from the Stoics who used it as a crucial concept in their philosophy of life. However, it originally stems from Socrates, perhaps the wisest person ever to live. He claimed that all wrong is done out of ignorance and not from the intention to do wrong.
According to Socrates, an individual will always choose the course of action that, at the time of decision, is perceived to bring them the greatest benefit (or the least harm) out of all available options. (Check out this essay for more on Socrates’ claim.)
So when someone does something wrong, it’s not that he wanted to go wrong, but that the wrong seemed to him true.
The idea is that nobody errs on purpose. Hear out three explanations.
Stupid Intelligence or Intelligent Stupidity
How come that so many bad things happened and are still happening if nobody wants to do wrong?
Because people don’t see it. They don’t really know what they’re doing.
It’s not that they are not intelligent enough to understand, but they don’t think about it. They don’t see themselves as evildoers. They follow some opinion without analyzing it and they are convinced they’re doing a good job.
We could call this “stupid intelligence”. They are intelligent in the form of school intelligence as they can read and write and count numbers, but they lack something else, something more important. Something like moral wisdom or a deeper understanding.
Think of slavery. We can all agree that this was (and still is) horrific.
The masters in the south of the US did not think of themselves as monstrous people. For them this was the most normal thing – to hold black people as slaves and flog and torture them. Black people to them were expensive property. They were subhuman, more like cattle or apes.
While many people in the north could not believe this was still happening, for the people in the south this was the way it’s supposed to be. Nothing wrong with holding and torturing slaves.
It’s not that all the people in the south were stupid and mean and all the people in the north were smart and kind. It’s much more that they had a different upbringing and in the south they lacked the wisdom that black people are human beings with the same intelligence and rights as the whites. (I highly recommend the book Twelve Years a Slave to get a better understanding of slavery.)
It’s hard to explain this. “Stupid intelligence” is not a mental illness, it’s much more a spiritual sickness that needs a spiritual cure. These people lack certain wisdom to understand. And it’s hard to explain them in words what they are blind to see.
Amathia – A Very Crucial Word
In Massimo Pigliucci’s book How to Be a Stoic I learned about a Greek word that’s missing in the English vocabulary – Amathia. It can best be thought of as a lack of wisdom. Let’s hear how he describes it:
“So amathia … is the opposite of wisdom, a kind of dis-knowledge of how to deal with other human beings, and it results in awful actions undertaken by otherwise perfectly functional, intelligent human beings. Moreover, people characterized by amathia cannot simply be persuaded by reasoned argument, because they understand the argument but are crucially deficient in their character, which … is developed over time by a combination of instincts, environmental influences (especially family guidance), and reason. If something goes wrong early on in a person’s development, it is difficult for reason alone to rectify the resulting amathia later in life.”
Is it the kid’s fault when he doesn’t like black people? No, and I’m sure the kid will learn at some point in his life that he is exactly the same as any black person, just with a different skin color. The kid and especially his father suffer from amathia.
When an otherwise ordinary person suffers from amathia, this dis-knowledge or dis-understanding will bring him to make unreasonable choices and lead him to do what outsiders correctly see as horrific and wrong acts.
The idea is that it’s not the person’s fault, but it’s caused by amathia. He simply lacks the wisdom to understand. For outsiders like us it’s easy to blame the person who’s done evil, but if we’ve had the same upbringing, experiences, knowledge and perspective, and if we were in his shoes, we’d probably do the same.
Luckily, we don’t. We couldn’t even do such things because this would create an unbearable feeling within us. Knowing something and doing the opposite doesn’t work. It’s called cognitive dissonance and creates a really bad feeling within us.
Cognitive Dissonance – Tension Created Due to a Behavior-Belief Mismatch
Let’s take stealing as an example.
We think stealing is bad. Therefore when we steal this creates a bad feeling. When we steal a little bit, that’s still ok. Because the bad feeling is only small and we can rationalize it.
So maybe we can steal two dollars from our mum’s piggybank or we can steal a pen from work (this goes even without a bad feeling). But we probably couldn’t steal 50 bucks from our mum or a printer from the workplace. The bad feeling of guilt would outweigh our benefits.
In short: If you have a belief about something and do something contrary to your belief, this will create a bad feeling called cognitive dissonance.
I experienced this myself last summer. I went on a 4-day music open air on a tiny mountain. Each day, we had the choice between waiting in the line to get on the cable railway or we could walk up the mountain for 40 minutes. The first day, I chose to walk. The second and third day, I followed some sneaky friends who cut the line. This created a bad feeling within myself because it was obviously not the right thing to do. So the fourth day I bettered myself and waited in the line.
It was interesting to see that cutting the line did not create a bad tension for everybody. Many sneaky line-cutters didn’t seem to get any bad tension. My tension was too big to ignore so I chose to do what seemed right to me.
Before we dive into how to deal with people who do something we don’t agree with, let’s check out this Epictetus quote and a quick recap.
“For if one shows this, a man will retire from his error of himself; but as long as you do not succeed in showing this, you need not wonder if he persists in his error, for he acts because he has an impression that he is right.” – Epictetus
Quick recap: People don’t do wrong on purpose. What they do seems right to do, otherwise they wouldn’t do it because of the cognitive dissonance they’re creating within themselves. They suffer from amathia – the kind of dis-knowledge that lets them not see what we see. They lack the wisdom to understand that what they’re doing is neither in their own nor in anyone else’s interest.
How to Treat Mean People, How to Treat People Who Go Wrong?
People don’t do wrong on purpose.
Now that we know that – how should we treat the people who do something we don’t agree with?
Let’s learn from the Stoics how to deal with mean people.
Pity Rather than Blame People Who Go Wrong
Stoic teacher Epictetus advised to pity rather than blame them:
“As we pity the blind and the lame, so should we pity those who are blinded and lamed in their most sovereign faculties. The man who remembers this, I say, will be angry with no one, indignant with no one, revile none, blame none, hate none, offend none.”
This is genius.
As the lame cannot walk straight, the person who suffers from amathia cannot act straight.
We don’t blame the lame person for walking crookedly because it’s not his fault. He is lame and walks as he does. He’s punished enough with being lame, that’s why naturally we pity him.
According to Epictetus we should treat people who suffer from amathia the same. They are penalized enough for not knowing the truth. It’s not that they go wrong because they want to go wrong, but they go wrong because they don’t know any better. It’s actually the opposite, these poor people think they’re going right. And that’s why we should pity them, for they are deprived of the truth.
This simple idea helps me immensely when I deal with “mean” people. When I think of them as lame or blind people, it’s much easier to accept them and their doing. They don’t know any better and they think they’re doing well.
Always Respond With Kindness and Compassion
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca
Whatever creature you meet today, you can always respond with kindness.
When I got up today before 6am and left the apartment for a quick walk, I didn’t get the opportunity to be kind to any human being. But I got the opportunity to be kind to some dogs. Where Nils and I live at the moment, here in Sharm el Sheikh, there are five dogs who share the residence with us.
One of the dogs can’t walk straight due to a massive hip problem, another is deaf, and one is crazy old. Long story short, all of the dogs are nice to me, but not all of them are nice and friendly with each other. And that’s not their fault, they’re dogs. But I can be kind to each of them, no matter whether they are kind to each other or not.
You and I, we can always try to respond with kindness. As Seneca said, it’s an opportunity for kindness when we meet other human beings (or any other creatures.) This is an opportunity for benefit. For all involved.
If the other person does not respond the favor, so be it. All we can do is focus on what we can control, and here it’s to choose to respond with kindness.
Here’s a question Ryan Holiday asks in his great book The Daily Stoic:
“What if the next time you were treated meanly, you didn’t just restrain yourself from fighting back – what if you responded with unmitigated kindness? What if you could ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’? What kind of effect do you think that would have?”
Think about this for 20 seconds.
Be Tolerant and Forgiving – They Don’t Know Any Better
“Whenever you meet someone, say to yourself from the outset, ‘What are his assumptions concerning what is fundamentally good and bad in life?’ When someone acts like your enemy, insults or opposes you, remember that he was only doing what seemed to him the right thing, he didn’t know any better, and tell yourself: ‘It seemed so to him.’” – Epictetus
This, again, is brilliant.
How much more tolerant and forgiving will you be when you take this quote to heart?
People don’t mean to be mean. Maybe they are unaware, maybe they say A but mean B, and most importantly, they do what seems right to them.
They don’t know any better. Remember what Jesus said when they crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Many of us have experienced some really bad situations with deep hatred, sexual harassment, getting punched in the face, or some other form of violence and horror. And I’m not saying we can easily forgive those evildoers. This needs a lot of work and maybe even trauma therapy.
Luckily, for most of us such horrific things don’t happen on a regular basis. And we mainly encounter unfriendly people, mad drivers, mean bosses, unfair people who cut the line, or unfaithful boyfriends.
Those people are deprived of truth. They wouldn’t do this if they weren’t.
Now we can use this knowledge to be tolerant, forgiving, and gentle.
“As Plato said, every soul is deprived of truth against its will. The same holds true for justice, self-control, goodwill to others, and every similar virtue. It’s essential to constantly keep this in your mind, for it will make you more gentle to all.” – Marcus Aurelius
Quick recap: In the first part we learned that people don’t do wrong on purpose. Now, the Stoics teach us how to treat the wrongdoers. Epictetus advises to pity rather than blame them. Just like the lame person has a lame leg, these people have a lame understanding. Seneca says that every encounter is an opportunity for kindness. Being kind will benefit us. And we can learn from Jesus to be tolerant and forgiving with people who suffer from amathia – for they don’t know any better. What they do seems right to them.
9 Strategies to Be Kind, Tolerant, and Forgiving with Mean People
Simply knowing that people don’t do wrong on purpose is a big help to be tolerant and kind.
But when we find ourselves in the shitty situations when we think “Why can’t this idiot just shut up.” or “Arrgh… I’m gonna choke him!” or whatever else you think in those moments, then it’s not so easy to remember what we’ve just learned and just respond with kindness.
To respond with kindness needs a lot of awareness.
When you’re unaware in such situations you most certainly respond with your default reaction. And in most cases that’s not kindness but just returning what you encounter. If somebody shouts at you, chances are high you shout back. If somebody is mean to you, chances are high you’re mean, too.
But what if you respond with kindness? The other might do the same. Oftentimes you reap what you sow. What goes around comes back around.
This brings us to the first of nine strategies.
#1 Know that the Wrongdoer Wrongs Himself
“The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves – making themselves evil.” – Marcus Aurelius
I bet you’ve experienced a feeling of guilt or shame after doing something wrong.
Just like the bad feeling I got when I cut the line to get on the music open air mountain.
It’s not surprising I was tipsy when I did it. Because alcohol decreases awareness. And being less aware, I do things I wouldn’t normally do. It’s like Ryan Holiday says, “Self-awareness and wrongdoing rarely go together.”
Just remember when someone wrongs you that she wrongs herself first and foremost. She’ll reap what she sowed.
#2 Don’t Seek Revenge – Mean Comes From Weakness
“The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that.” – Marcus Aurelius
Oftentimes when we get treated rudely, something within us wants to seek revenge. We think, “I’ll get her for this.”
To respond to bad behavior with bad behavior is the worst possible response. It only proves the other person right.
The best revenge is no revenge at all but to respond with kindness. Be the person you want to see in others. Be the example.
If you know that meanness comes from weakness, and kindness comes from strength, then you will want to show strength, swallow the revenge, and step ahead as an example. Learn from Ryan Holiday:
“Most rudeness, meanness, and cruelty are a mask for deep-seated weakness. Kindness in these situations is only possible for people of great strength. You have that strength. Use it.”
#3 Don’t Abandon Others – You Were at the Same Place Not Long Ago
“As you move forward along the path of reason, people will stand in your way. They will never be able to keep you from doing what’s sound, so don’t let them knock out your goodwill for them. Keep a steady watch on both fronts, not only for well-based judgments and actions, but also for gentleness with those who would obstruct our path or create other difficulties. For getting angry is also a weakness, just as much as abandoning the task or surrendering under panic.” – Marcus Aurelius
What if someone cuts the line I’m standing in?
It’s easy to get mad at him for doing something that’s obviously not right. But who am I to judge? I’ve been doing the same thing just a few months ago.
When I remember this, it’s much easier to be patient and kind with the line-cutter. The same holds true for other things.
Let’s take dieting. I’ve been interested in nutrition for a few years now. I want to eat healthy, animal- and nature-friendly, and if possible local food. I choose to eat that way for my own health, but also for the health of the environment, and because it gives me a bad feeling when I eat something that was grown or raised inhumanely.
Many of my friends don’t give a shit where their food comes from. Now I’m not going to abandon them just for being at the place I was only a few years ago. I can share my interests with them, but whether they take it or not is up to them. And that’s fine.
I did the same mistakes not long ago.
Two things are important here: I don’t abandon my way just because my friends see it differently, but I also don’t abandon my friends for seeing it differently.
I try to stay on my path and at the same time I won’t write people off just because they have a problem with my path. After all, I was at the same place not long ago.
#4 See Your Own Faults – You Have Plenty of Those
“Whenever you take offense at someone’s wrongdoing, immediately turn to your own similar failings… By thinking on this, you’ll quickly forget your anger, considering also what compels them – for what else could they do?” – Marcus Aurelius
Most certainly we’re not any better than the people around us.
Sure, we see their mistakes and think we’re better, but we make mistakes ourselves. Sometimes we’ve had a bad night and get angry easily, too. Sometimes we forget something, too. Sometimes we can be mean, too.
We all make mistakes. Yes, you, too. Remember that before you judge someone else.
Be as forgiving of other people as you are of yourself.
This reminds me of our one yoghurt per person per day rule when I grew up. When I caught one of my brothers eating more than one yoghurt a day, I was quickly to judge them. But when I did, I easily found a way to explain it to myself.
I often forgot that I’m not a pinch better.
#5 Remember that You Are Privileged – Not All Had the Same Upbringing
“Some people are sharp and others dull; some are raised in a better environment, others in worse, the latter, having inferior habits and nurture, will require more by way of proof and careful instruction to master these teachings and to be formed by them – in the same way that bodies in a bad state must be given great deal of care when perfect health is sought.” – Musonius Rufus
In school, I was highly privileged. Things came easy. Writing, reading, maths, remembering stuff, etc. all was pretty easy for me, and also for all of my brothers.
Something in our upbringing, or in our genes, helped us to be good at school. The way school worked favored us.
But easy for me didn’t mean easy for everybody else. Some kids in my class had much more difficulties learning the things that came so easy to me. They needed more time to learn the same. Maybe they were different learning types, or they had trouble concentrating, or whatever it was that made the difference.
Point is, at this point in my life I hadn’t done anything to be better at school than others. So obviously, I was privileged.
Now when we deal with people, it’s helpful to remember that we are privileged. Before you get mad at somebody because he doesn’t understand or because he has a different opinion than you, just think about the fact that maybe you are privileged.
He didn’t have the same upbringing as you. He didn’t have the advantages that you’ve had. I’m not saying that your life or my life has been easy, but we’ve had a head start. That’s why it’s important to be tolerant and patient with others.
Think of computers. We need to be patient with our parents or grandparents when they have trouble finding the mouse or the internet. They just never learned how to use a PC. The other way around they need to be patient with us when it comes to haying.
#6 Mind Your Own Business – The Buddha Story
“My reasoned choice is as indifferent to the reasoned choice of my neighbor, as to his breath and body. However much we’ve been made for cooperation, the ruling reason in each of us is master of its own affairs. If this weren’t the case, the evil in someone else could become my harm, and God didn’t mean for someone else to control my misfortune.” – Marcus Aurelius
People can be mean. People can treat us badly. People can be annoying.
But it’s them who are mean and that’s frankly not your business. You don’t need to take their meanness. You can observe it, but it’s still theirs if you don’t accept it.
There’s a phenomenal story I learned about in Neil Pasricha’s amazing book The Happiness Equation:
Someday Buddha visited a tiny village.
One man was upset with him and furiously shouted at Buddha, “You have no right teaching others, you are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake!”
When the rage was over, Buddha was still sitting there smiling. This made the man even angrier, “Why are you just sitting there smiling? What do you have to say?”
Then Buddha spoke, “Do you ever have guests at your house?”
“Do you serve them foods and delicacies when they arrive?”
“Yes, I do.”
Then Buddha continued, “If they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?”
“Well, I suppose if they don’t accept them, those foods are all mine.”
“Yes,” said Buddha. “In the same way I do not accept your anger and your criticism. It is all yours.”
We don’t need to accept everything other people do, say, or think about us. It’s not our business as long as it does not interfere with our physical body.
Their life is their business and your life is your business.
(I wrote about focusing on your own business here.)
Our life is tough enough, we don’t need to worry about what others say or think about us. It’s out of our control. We can do our best, but if others see it as they do, it’s their business and none of our concern.
Don’t fight with others. It’s not worth it. And it’s not what educated people do. Hear it from Stoic teacher Epictetus:
“The beautiful and good person neither fights with anyone nor, as much as they are able, permits others to fight… this is the meaning of getting an education – learning what is your own affair and what is not. If a person carries themselves so, where is there any room for fighting?”
#7 See It as Training – Scratches Happen
“When your sparring partner scratches or head-butts you, you don’t then make a show of it, or protest, or view him with suspicion or as plotting against you. And yet you keep an eye on him, not as an enemy or with suspicion, but with a healthy avoidance. You should act this way with all things in life. We should give a pass to many things with our fellow trainees. For, as I’ve said, it’s possible to avoid without suspicion or hate.” – Marcus Aurelius
What a fantastic idea!
Just as you can say that it’s none of your business if someone scratches you with what he says, you can just dust it off as training. Nothing happened. And you can move on.
If you see everyday life as a kind of training, the stakes suddenly become much lower. You don’t take things too serious, you’re more generous with your own and the mistakes of others, and it’s much easier to smile over a mental scratch or two.
Scratches happen. They’ve happened before. And they will happen in the future. They happen to you. They happen to everybody else. No need to become enraged over scratches. We’re all in training. We’re all learning.
#8 Prepare for Mean People – They Will Be There
“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me … and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness – nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” – Marcus Aurelius
Today, or any time soon you will interact with a jackass (or at least someone who seems so).
There’s no way around it. Sometimes people are cranky, you and I, we’ve been cranky, too (probably more often than we think).
So why not prepare for mean people to enter our lives?
Basically, that’s kind of what you’re doing right now when you’re reading these strategies. But you can prepare specifically for those jackasses.
The streets are full of them, right? Most drivers think they’re driving like an angel but the others are driving jerks. So why not prepare specifically for such a situation?
Prepare mentally for drivers to cut you off, honk at you, speeding, and what not. And imagine how you want to react. You prefer to stay calm, right? So think about it being a minor scratch, and that he’s training, or that he’s got a furious wife next to him, or that he’s late for an important interview, or whatever.
Most of the time nothing really happens. And there’s no sense in getting angry at some other driver. They don’t do it on purpose.
This mental preparation is called negative visualization and is a main Stoic concept. You can read in detail about it here under "Practice Misfortune".
The idea is simple: Things will go wrong, people will be mean, people will make mistakes, and if you prepare for such situations and mean people, it will be much easier to handle when it actually happens. It will be much easier to respond with kindness and patience.
#9 Don’t Get Mad – Help When You Can
You’ve learned many strategies to deal with mean people and how to treat them with kindness and patience.
However, there’s one more thing I believe is highly important to mention. When we deal with annoying people, it’s not only about responding kindly, but it’s also about helping them. And it’s important not to get bitter inside yourself.
It can happen that we’re kind outwardly and at the same time we’re furious inwardly. That’s not the answer. It’s not about swallowing your anger and saying nothing. Much more, we want to be genuinely kind. So if we’re outwardly kind to others but inwardly we’re bitter and angry, then we need to do something about this.
We can point something out to the person that’s enraging us. We can kindly ask them to change what makes us furious. Or we can try to understand where they’re coming from so we see their point of view.
Ryan Holiday explained this smartly in the meditation from October 14th in his book The Daily Stoic:
“The person sitting next to you on the plane, the one who is loudly chattering and knocking around in your space? The one you’re grinding your teeth about, hating from the depth of your soul because they’re rude, ignorant, obnoxious? In these situations, you might feel it takes everything you have to restrain yourself from murdering them.
It’s funny how that thought comes into our heads before, you know, politely asking them to stop, or making the minor scene of asking for a different seat. We’d rather be pissed off, bitter, raging inside than risk an awkward conversation that might actually help this person and make the world a better place. We don’t just want people to be better, we expect it to magically happen – that we can simply will other people to change, burning holes into their skull with our angry stare.
Although when you think about it that way, it makes you wonder who the rude one actually is.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s so true for me (except for the murdering part).
It’s easier to smile and say nothing and then be bitter about it than to be brave, confront, and then be happy about it. When we think about it, though, it wouldn’t be that hard to ask and point something out to someone who’s straining our nerves.
Being kind and patience is all good as long as it does not tear you apart. Oftentimes people are really annoying but are unaware of it. So why not pointing it out and giving them a chance to change?
Maybe your friend doesn’t know you don’t like it when he calls you fish head. So tell him. Hey bro, I don’t like it when you call me fish head even if I’m smiling. – Oh, okay. Sorry bro, I thought you think it’s funny.
Give your friend a chance.
Give the mean people a chance to change.
Everything in a Nutshell
The key idea is that nobody does wrong on purpose.
People act wrongly not because they are stupid, but because they lack wisdom. They are like children who cannot differ from good and wrong. And they act how they think is right.
People do what they think is the best in their situation. If they do wrong it’s because they suffer from amathia – a lack of wisdom. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it. That would cause a bad feeling called cognitive dissonance. When your actions don’t match your beliefs.
This prevents us (mostly) from doing things we think are wrong. Because doing those things will leave us with a terrible feeling that’s not pleasant living with.
Therefore, the Stoics advise us to respond with kindness to rude and mean people. They don’t act that way on purpose. We should rather pity than blame then, for they are lamed in their most sovereign faculties, namely their mind and their understanding.
This helps us being tolerant and forgiving with the evildoers. They don’t know what they’re doing.
Here are 9 strategies to be tolerant, forgiving, and kind with others:
- Remember that the wrongdoer wrongs himself first and foremost. You reap what you sow.
- Know that meanness comes from weakness and kindness comes from strength. You have the strength. Use it.
- Don’t abandon others, you were at the same place not long ago. Give people time to change and adapt.
- See your own faults. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok. Don’t judge people for making mistakes, you have your flaws as well.
- You are privileged. Know that you’ve had a head start and you’re at an advantage. Not everybody had the same upbringing.
- Mind your own business. Someone talks shit about you? So what, that’s his business and not yours. Focus on what you can control.
- See it as training. Scratches happen and are not worth to lose your mind for. Dust it off quickly, we’re all learning.
- Prepare for mean people to enter your life. Instead of getting angry at the same people and situations all over again every day, prepare mentally for it to happen and it’ll be much easier to take.
- Don’t get mad, help others. They hurt you? Tell them where they’re going wrong and give them a chance to change. It won’t happen magically.
People don’t go wrong on purpose. Be kind and forgiving.
Question for you: In which situation(s) could you be kinder and more tolerant in the future?
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Amazing post Jonas! Really, really amazingly put together and thought out. And I have to agree with most of what you and the Stoics say. I’m a fan myself, particularly of Epicurus.
However, the one slight problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes some kind of universally agreed version of what is right and wrong. And that is dangerous territory, making one as blindly bigoted as some of the people you mention in this article.
For instance you say stealing is obviously wrong. But what is stealing? And suppose (like land from indigenous people for instance) the thing you steal was stolen from you in the first place?
And what about killing? Is this wrong? What if you’re defending yourself against someone trying to kill you? A pacifist may still say that you are wrong to kill. What about euthanasia or mercy killing?
And if it’s wrong to discriminate against races than maybe a ‘Black Pride’ March is as wrong as a ‘White Pride’ March.
And maybe a ‘Gay Pride’ March is wrong as well?
Sometimes the problem is not the person doing the wrong or right, but the person who thinks absolutely he or she knows what is wrong or right.
Just throwing the cat among the pigeons – although I don’t know if that phrase is common outside the UK 🙂
Thank you Mark! Highly appreciate feedback from you.
(Did you mean Epictetus? Because Epicurus wasn’t a Stoic 🙂 )
Agree. We don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. Especially in what you mentioned like stealing back or killing in defense.
However, I think this is not important. Right or wrong? Who knows. But if we don’t judge people for what they do (even if we think it’s wrong) and assume that they try to do what they think is right, then it doesn’t really matter.
You’re gentle and forgiving when you think my actions are wrong. And you’re gentle and forgiving when you think my actions are right. Your response stays the same, just your thoughts change: Once you think, “he doesn’t know any better.” and the other time you think, “smart guy, this Jonas.”
Hope that makes sense. So, I don’t think it is (or would be) a problem if there’s no universally accepted deep truth.
I think this idiom is mainly common in the UK. But I’ll adopt it, I like it 🙂
I would of said that people do wrong that know better all the time, but the Cognitive Dissonance explanation makes sense. People might knowingly do wrong once or twice, but to continually do it requires some kind of justification in their head, bringing truth to the idea that they did not do wrong knowingly. It is impossible to know whether the person is delusional, ignorant, or simply living in turmoil/cognitive dissonance.
Thanks for your comment.
Just to make sure I understand that right: Do you think the justification is telling themselves that they don’t go wrong knowingly?
You’re right about the last thing you’re saying, we can’t know for sure why people act as they do. But this doesn’t matter as long as we know they don’t do it on purpose.
Hi Jonas, what can I say? This is just brilliant! I love the way you put into words what my intuition was saying.
My perspective changed when I heard a Monk talking about souls being pure, but our lives and actions being affected by our mental disturbances.
The difficult thing is to hear people saying that a good part of humanity is fundamentally mean and nothing can be done against that. Meaning that there are the goods ones and the bad ones for ever, period.
I fully agree that we should practice compassion towards those who are acting or thinking wrong (as much as we can judge).
As we say in yoga, this is a practice, meaning that it won’t be perfect, but we have to put our will into it.
I also have loads of things to learn and I hope that other people will be compassionate when I am doing wrong.
And no, I am not leaving in an ideal world. But compassion and love can be so powerful instead of distrust and hate.
Thank you for your work, I always read your articles with interest 🙂
Hi Anne, thank you so much for your generosity 🙂
I love this: our souls are pure but our lives and actions get affected by our mental disturbances.
True compassion, I’d say, starts with ourselves – aka self-compassion: being compassionate with ourselves first. Like all other humans, we are fallible and don’t always live up to our values. And that’s ok (as long as we’re open and willing to keep on learning and growing).
Also, I’ve been trying to spot the soul in other beings, and thus finding the good within them, even if they’re doing something that’s a bit disturbing (in my perception). This way, it’s easier to find the positive and respond in a loving way instead of treating someone with distrust or objection.
Thank you for sharing love and compassion,
I have found your article very helpful – thank you – but I wonder if this logic has its limits?
A child in my family was abused by someone years ago and I have only really understood the implications of what happened more recently.
Understanding how the perpetrator thought it was ok, and understanding why I did not appreciate what was happening at the time of the event, does not negate the offence, nor stop the ‘victim’ blaming me that it happened on my watch
Surely some things are just ‘wrong’? To suggest that the perpetrator and perhaps the bystander had their reasons for their actions/non-actions is not enough? Or anyone could justify anything
Hello and thanks for your comment.
I’d say, you are reasonable in your argumentation. Some things are just wrong. And this logic has its limits.
(At least in this third dimension we live in. Looked at it from another dimension, a completely different perspective, it might be different.)
If you can use the idea in some situations to keep your peace within, then it might already be valuable. For your specific situation, you might need to find another way for dealing with it. Or accepting that it happened. And make sure you learn from your errors.