This is a tough topic for me. I try very hard to cultivate patience and tolerance, mainly because letting circumstances stress you out is just so unhealthy in every way. There are some situations that I tolerate that make other people absolutely nuts and they think I am some kind of Zen meditation guru because I don’t flip out. These are mainly things like traffic or the general public. I commute two hours each way five days a week and flipping out whenever there’s an accident slowing everything to a crawl or complete stop isn’t going to speed things up one iota. Dealing with the public takes a little more patience, but people are people. When I was in college once, I was reading in the cafeteria and a small group of students sat down right next to me (although there was plenty of space) and they started pawing through the parts of the newspaper I had finished and they were chatting loudly, and I just ignored them. It wasn’t until one of them grabbed a napkin off my tray and sneezed that I started to leave. That’s when I found out they were actually psych students and they were testing personal boundaries: how much do people tolerate others invading their personal space. They asked me a lot of questions because I had put up with a lot, and basically when you are in public, you are in a shared area, so I put up with it. Just like in traffic, I am one of many in a shared environment. I do like a bit more manners than I used to (meaning use your blinker when you change lanes, dammit!!) but like the table in the cafeteria, it’s not all mine and I am not the boss.
Believe me, I am not as patient or as tolerant as I seem. There are a lot of times where I am swearing under my breath or I am biting my lip to keep from saying something rude. I just have no tolerance for a lot of things anymore. I remember one day I was at the supermarket and a family with a lot of young children was basically letting them run wild through the store. They were really running through the aisles, and one little girl in her pretty frilly Sunday dress was happily poking a rainbow trout in the meat department, calling out “Mami! Mira! Mira!” (Mommy, look, look!”). I have no patience for situations like that (it happened again just the other day). It’s not that I don’t like kids: what I don’t like is when people don’t exercise a few manners. I feel the same way about people who let their dogs run wild: you aren’t doing the kids or the dogs any favors by not teaching them manners or self-control. It just makes things harder for them later on. When I go to someone’s house and their dog jumps on me, I doesn’t bother me. Odds are, I already have dog and cat hair all over me, their dog is smelling my pets and unless they have muddy feet, I’m okay with a big ‘doggie hug.’ But I have to take my cue from the dog owner: if they are telling him to get down or lie down, I have to back them up and tell him no because they are trying to teach their dog manners. Not all guests are as dog friendly as I am. The same is true with kids: we’ve all been talking to a parent when the kid comes rushing in and interrupts. The kid doesn’t know any better and a responsible parent will gently instruct him. What tries my patience are the parents (of kids and pets) who don’t teach manners: it creates problems for the kids/ pets who don’t understand why people react negatively to them as well as creating problems for the rest of us who have to deal with out of control kids/ pets.
Usually, those kinds of situations just result in me swearing quietly and rolling my eyes. It’s the ‘trigger’ situations where I really need to build tolerance. Those are the situations where I usually have to deal with someone difficult. I don’t mean someone in the general public, although it can be. It’s usually someone who is inconsiderate or self-absorbed or who is just plain rude and/ or ignorant. One of my little mantras used to “I have no tolerance for the intolerant.” Yeah, it’s pithy but it also doesn’t mean much! Rude intolerant people are the ones we should be most tolerant of, and they are the ones who cause me to lose it almost every time. Being rude back to them only reinforces their wrong behavior, while being more accommodating to them and ignoring their rudeness (ideally) should make them more aware of how wrong their actions are. In other words, it makes them feel stupid. I find this is pretty much the only thing that makes them aware of how inconsiderate and foolish their behavior really is. Basically, someone is being obnoxious and when you don’t rise to their bait, it only emphasizes how childish they are. This is the person in the store who is obnoxious or condescending to the person behind the counter (and you are standing right there next to Ms. Loudmouth), or this is the person who has a tantrum because you won’t drop everything to handle their problem.
I would like to say that I handle these situations with grace and aplomb and I make them feel stupid and ignorant every time. Oh hell no!! I usually do the exact opposite and have a fit at them. I feel my stress level starting to rise; my sighs grow deeper; I start grinding my teeth and then I usually snap at them. I just lose my patience. These are the times that I really need to work on building more tolerance. It’s easy to be tolerant in difficult situations where everyone else is being calm and understanding. I’ve been the caller who’s trying to get information and the person on the other end trying to give me what I want is having a hard time finding it. It’s easy to listen to apologies and commiserate patiently with them. When someone is polite, even if you are not in a good frame of mind, it’s easier to be patient and understanding, but when they are rude or childish and you are not in a good mood, this is when it’s hardest to be tolerant of bad behavior.
So why does this matter? Because stress has such a negative effect on our health: it manifests in things like poor sleep, poor concentration/ focus, poor food choices (as in “I’m having a bad day so I need a treat!” or “I don’t have the patience to cook tonight!”) It also effects our blood pressure (no kidding!), our cortisol levels (which lead to fat storage and increased hunger) but also other things that we may not attribute to stress. In my case, I have noticed that the more stressed I am, the more I am likely to grind my teeth (bruxism) when I sleep, which leads to jaw pain and toothaches, which in turn makes it hard to eat, especially things like healthy crunchy vegetables. Aside from having trouble eating anything that isn’t highly processed, walking around with a painful jaw isn’t a whole lot of fun either!
We can’t always avoid unpleasant situations, so the best action is to be more tolerant of obnoxious people. When we allow them to trigger our stress and our own obnoxious behavior, we are the ones who suffer. Our quality of life is less because we allowed their bad behavior to influence ours. Their quality of life is most likely not good to start with: can you imagine how it must feel walking around all day every day believing that you are constantly under attack? (I think this is how most of them feel because in my experience this is how most of them act.) Unfortunately, we learn how to cope in bad situations by living through bad situations. It’s how I learned to be more ‘Zen’ about traffic and it’s how I learned to be more tolerant of the public in general. Maybe because I am around the ‘problem people’ in my life so much that I have lost patience with them. Maybe I should try taking advantage of all the opportunities to practice and be more grateful for the practice, but so far, it just keeps getting harder…..