How to Remain Calm With People


One of the most important ways to calm
down is the power to hold on. Even in challenging situations
to a distinction between what someone does and what they meant to do.
In law, the difference is enshrined in the
contrasting concepts of murder and manslaughter. The result may be the same: the body is
inert in a pool of blood. But we collectively feel it makes a huge
difference what the perpetrators intentions were.
Motives are crucial, but unfortunately we’re seldom very good
at perceiving what motives happened to be involved in the incidents that
frustrate us. We’re easily and wildly mistaken. We see intention where there was
none and escalate and confront when no strenuous or agitated responses are in
fact warranted. Part of the reason why we jump so
readily to dark inclusions and see plots to insult and harm us is a rather
poignant psychological phenomenon: Self-hatred. The less we like ourselves, the more we
appear in our own eyes as really rather plausible targets for mockery and harm. Why would a drill have started up
outside just as we were settling down to work? Why are the email not arrive even though
we’ll have to be in a meeting very soon? Why would the phone operator be taking
so long to find our details? Because there is, logically enough, a plot against
us. Because we are appropriate targets for these kinds of things. Because we’re the sort of people against whom disruptive drilling is legitimately likely to be
directed. It’s what we deserve. When we carry a
background excess of self-disgust around with us operating just below the radar of
conscious awareness. We’ll constantly seek confirmation from the wider world that
we really are the worthless people we take ourselves to be. The expectation is
almost always set in childhood where someone close to us is likely to have
left us feeling dirty and culpable. And as a result we now travel through
society assuming the worst. Not because it’s necessarily true or
pleasant to do so, but because it feels familiar. And because as the prisoners of past
patterns we haven’t yet understood. We would be so much calmer around adults, if we could resort to some of the
unflustered poised we naturally use around children. Small children sometimes
behave in really maddening ways. They scream at the person who’s looking after
them, angry push away a bowl of animal pastor, throw away something you’ve just
fetched for them. But we rarely feel personally agitated or wounded by their
behavior. And the reason is that we don’t assign a negative motive or mean
intention to a small person. We reach around for the most benevolent
interpretations. We probably think that they’re just a
bit tired, or their gums are sore, or they’re upset by the arrival of a
younger sibling. We’ve got a large repertoire of
alternative explanations ready in our heads. And none of these lead us to panic
or get terribly agitated. This is the reverse of what tends to
happen around adults. Here we imagine that people have deliberately got us in their sights. If someone edges in front of us in the
airport queue it’s natural to suppose that they’ve sized this up and of reason that
they can safely take advantage of us. They probably relish the thought of
causing us a little distress. But if we employ the infant model of
interpretation our first assumptions would be very
different. We think that maybe they didn’t sleep well that night, have a sore
knee, or have been upset by their lover. The French philosopher Inmilo Gustachtie, known as Ella, was set to be the finest teacher in France in the first
half of the 20th century. And he developed a formula for calming himself and his pupils down in the face of irritating people. Never say that people
are evil. He wrote. You just need to look for the
pin. What he meant was: look for the source of the agony that drives a person to behave in appalling ways. The calming thought is
to imagine that they’re suffering off stage in some area we can’t see. To be mature is to learn to
imagine this zone of pain in spite of the lack of much available evidence. They
may not look as if they were mad and by an inner psychological element. They may seem chirpy and full of
themselves, but the pin simply must be there or they would not be causing us
harm. When others maden us we need to imagine the turmoil,
disappointment, worry, and sadness beneath an aggressive surface. We need to aim compassion in an
unexpected place at those who annoy us most. We must do that very strange thing: move
from anger to pity.