Ask Yourself This Question the Next Time You're Feeling FranticNone By Piero Ferrucci
We have all met difficult people, and have all somehow been difficult ourselves for others—perhaps without even realizing it. But some people are champions. They get first prize for pushing our buttons. Our reaction when faced with them is to feel irritated. And we either express our annoyance or suffer in silence. It is also possible, however, to practice the art of patience and help these people feel better about themselves.
I had proof of this once on an airplane. To start with, a plane is, for many of us, an extremely frustrating place. It is hard to endure the time, crammed with others for hours in a noisy, unstable contraption. But what happens if our neighbors are a nuisance? Well, behind me on this flight was seated a man who was clearly drunk—and growing louder and more aggressive the more he drank. At one point, he dropped his meal tray: French fries, mushrooms, and macaroni went rolling down the aisle. Then suddenly I was shocked to realize he had brought a huge toad in a box. (Don’t ask me how he got past the security check.) Soon the stewardesses stepped in. But instead of reproaching him, as I secretly hoped they would, they began to talk with him, joke, pour him a little more wine, admire the toad; and they cleaned the mess without a word. The drunk calmed down and soon fell asleep.
This is one of the hardest criteria for testing our patience: having to deal with someone insufferable. Those stewardesses get full marks. It seems to me that what works is not to react to the annoyance, but instead to treat the person with skill and kindness. Difficult people are not used to that type of treatment—they are usually neither liked nor tolerated. And what happens if you continually meet with irritation? They end up falling into their role of nuisance. With our own reactions, we all unwittingly help reinforc