March 25, 2020 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Tag(s): Book Excerpts Stoicism

How To Deal With Annoying People, The Stoic Way

Chuck Chakrapani

Although we may not consider it a major problem, we all experience annoyances in our daily life. Annoyances make us angry or irritated and make our life less pleasant. What is the Stoic solution to this problem?

Take a deep breath before responding

Epictetus put the responsibility for being annoyed squarely on our shoulders. We are annoyed because of our judgment, our opinion. The best way to deal with annoyances is to stop responding on impulse. Step back, take your time, and then respond.

 "When someone provokes you, if you respond with anger or some other negative emotion, your mind is tricked into believing you are being harmed. So, it is essential not to respond to impressions impulsively. Take some time before reacting. You will see you are in better control."

Epictetus, Enchiridion 20 (Chuck Chakrapani. The Good Life Handbook, Ch. 20)
Do not avoid annoying people, but deal with them

When someone annoys us, our tendency is to avoid them. We cannot solve problems by running away from them. Marcus Aurelius advised that we should not run away but deal with annoying people. He offered five strategies to deal with annoying people.

1. Think about your own shortcomings

When we find someone annoying, we are focused on someone else’s shortcomings. We don’t stop to think that we may have our own shortcomings. We don’t consider that there might be others who might consider us annoying.

If someone annoys us, instead of getting upset with them, we can pause and ponder our own shortcomings. Doing so will make us more tolerant and compassionate, not only towards the person who annoyed us but towards ourselves as well. We may also want to bear in mind that the negative emotions directed at others harm us more than whatever they did in the first place to annoy us. When we are annoyed, we are making things worse for ourselves by losing our equanimity.

2. Being annoying may be in the nature of the other person

A fig tree does not produce oranges and an orange tree does not produce figs. A dog does not meow and a cat does not bark. It is in their nature to do what they do. Just as you cannot make a dog meow and a cat bark, you cannot make an annoying person non-annoying. They all do what is in their nature. So, it is pointless to get annoyed by what others are.

3. The annoying person is unwise; so be charitable

The person who chooses to be annoying is a product of her circumstances. People choose negative habits through folly, never through wisdom. Why be annoyed by someone who has chosen to be unwise, consciously or unconsciously?

4. The annoying act is insignificant in the grand scheme of things

Remember that life is short. In a few years we will be gone, so will the people who annoy us. The event that created our annoyance is totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things. When we look at this from this larger perspective, is it worth sacrificing our equanimity?

5. The annoying person does not deserve your hate

When we assent to anger or carry a grudge in response to annoyance, it affects us negatively more than it affects the other person. We may become less charitable towards them which makes us less virtuous. As we saw before, the annoying person is unwise and does not deserve our hate. When we hate the other person, we become like them. The best revenge is never to use actions arising out of anger and grudge to get even but to refuse to become like the other person.

Change your unrealistic expectations

We have expectations of how people should behave. If we have a certain expectation about how a friend or a boss should behave when they don’t behave that way we get annoyed. Because we have different expectations of different people, our annoyance may be the result of having unrealistic expectations. Perhaps the other person is simply not capable of meeting our expectations. Our wanting something that is unrealistic is contrary to nature and therefore irrational. The cause of our annoyance is not the other person, but our own irrational expectations. If we change our expectations, we will stop being annoyed.

When we realize that we are not different from the person who annoyed us, when we see that it may be in their nature to be annoying, when we see that in the great scheme of things this annoyance is insignificant, and when we see that it may be our unrealistic expectation that is causing us the annoyance, we will see no point in being annoyed.