This week I have been trying to follow the teachings of the philosopher Seneca. This is oh, so much more difficult than it may sound.
The idea is that people become angry because their expectations are too high. We expect that other people will be pleasant and considerate. We expect that trains and buses will run on time and that motorists will have at least minimal driving skills. We expect that the world will function in a way we find acceptable. Seneca says these expectations are unrealistic.
When we are overly optimistic in this way we become surprised, shocked and often angry when the world lets us down. As it is bound to do. In order to avoid these bouts of fury Seneca’s advice, contradictory as it may sound, is to cultivate a more pessimistic outlook on life. If we expect the worst we will not be surprised when it happens.
I used to be a very angry little person. I thought of myself as an angry woman who came from a long line of angry women. It was part of my personality and entirely out of my control. My guru, Mr DMB, taught me that this was not the case. My anger response was just a learned behaviour. A behaviour which could also be unlearned. It took a while and I’m not nearly rage-free but I’m pretty proud of the progress I’ve made. What still annoys me though, what I’m working on this week with assistance from old Seneca, is People.
People are sooooo annoying. They seem to go out of their way to be irritating: refusing to answer simple, polite questions; being unnecessarily noisy; generally getting under my skin and rubbing me up the wrong way. It is because I am required to have dealings with People on a daily basis that I have been musing on the ideas of Seneca this week.
However, as I said, it’s one thing to agree with the ideas. It’s quite another to put them into action. First of all, I’m wary of becoming too pessimistic. Negativity is a dark and dangerous emotion. I need to avoid pessimism and aim instead for slightly less optimism. Secondly, the more I’m thinking about anger the more quickly I seem to be reacting angrily to situations. My attempts to avoid this emotion seem to be bringing it to the fore. I must try to achieve the proper balance: optimism versus pessimism; irritation versus serenity.
It was suggested we should meditate each morning on all the terrible, awful things that could happen in the course of the day. The idea is that this will give us the chance to examine what could go wrong and prepare for the worst. My feeling is that this could also be a rather cathartic process. To calmly muse on all the bad things so when they actually happen they will wash over us and leave us unruffled.
In that spirit:
- Bus Drivers will be surly and unhelpful. They will drive as if bus stops and passengers are an inconvenience and a hinderance and not, in fact, the sole reason for their employment.
- People will allow their muddy and slavering dogs to jump up on innocent strangers and will become violently angry if said soggy and mud-splattered strangers should dare to utter a word of complaint.
- People will occasionally request a tour of the premises then spend half the time talking themselves and the other half moving at such glacially slow speeds that they suddenly interrupt the tour guide in the middle of her funniest and most side-splitting story, say they have run out of time and rush off – leaving the guide with a dispiriting sense of ennui and the makings of a stonking headache.
Aaaaah. That feels much better. Thanks Seneca!