People live their lives in a state of chaos. Every little distraction pulls them away from their path. The distraction itself is nothing at all, like a tiny dog barking, but they will still stop what they’re doing and go to fight and chase it. Of course the little dog will run away and the angry fools chasing it will just tire themselves. They gained nothing, but a lost a little more of their most valuable resource: their time. By the time they get back on the road they’ll spot another distraction and start chasing that.

Strive towards a state when noise of the barking dog ceases to exist. You can see the dog, but you can’t hear it – it doesn’t affect you in any way. It may jump in front of you trying to get your attention but you simply push it away, it’s just a tiny thing, it cannot stand in your way. You can see the path ahead clearly – you can see the real obstacles that you must go around to reach your destination, the hills and mountains, and you focus on that. Petty distractions don’t exist, you focus on what really matters. While everybody around you is running around you make ground.

These distractions come from two sources. Some originate internally: impulses that drive you towards quick pleasures, or fear that drives you away from the path. While these things may give you a little value, they will usually steal a lot more behind your back.

Others originate externally, usually in the form of other people colliding with you in some way. You’ll always interact with incompetent, rude or simply malicious people – there is no way around that – what matters is how you handle yourself. Do you get involved? Do you bring yourself down to their level and engage with them? Again, the action is impulsive, driven by anger, and while it may have originated externally, it is you who is a lead actor in this act.

Why not elevate yourself above all this? Look down on the situation from above and figure out what’s really going on. You’ll see that all these people are simply obstacles that you must go around. If you’re walking along a country road and see a big puddle of mud up ahead, do you walk right through it or walk around it? Do you stop in-front of it and curse it believing your words make any difference to it? It is the same with such people. Engaging yourself with them is dragging yourself through mud, or worse, being angry at it. Instead, realize the situation for what it really is. Think strategically and employ the right interaction technique in each situation. Most of the time this is simply ignoring the troublemaker.

It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

But how can I do that? The troublemaker is trying to hurt or annoy me in some way – how do I block that out? Well, are these people on the same level as you? Do you really consider them your equals and love them as much as yourself to give them all this respect and attention? Of course not. They already lost your respect through their actions. What’s left for them to pillage from you is your attention. Don’t ever surrender it to them.

November 2009