The more you read and converse with others, the more likely you will find people you don’t like. Two things might happen:
One, you would follow your default impulse, which is to mentally attack them, creating a wall between the egos — I versus you, us versus them.
Or two, you can use that encounter to deepen your spirituality, by allowing people you don’t like to make you a better human being. Here is how you do it.
Take command of your awareness
The first step is recognising that while you might have little influence over how they think or behave, you do have a tremendous control over your reaction.
Obsessing on how bad others are is, at best, energetically wasteful. At worst, you risk growing cancerous negativities in your mind, which will seep into other aspects of your being. You may notice this sometimes: It’s when you realise you are still thinking or talking about how annoying this or that person is, even hours after you saw them.
Your time is valuable. Don’t spend it on people you don’t like in an aimless way. Convert that negative psychological energy into reminders to regain the command of your awareness.
Once you have it, there are three powerful questions that you can ask yourself:
Why am I reacting so strongly towards what they said or did?
Our ego reacts strongly against what it perceives as a threat towards its self-worth. When someone tries to alter the description of who we are, it introduces a dissonance, making us dislike that person. Here’s an example:
Our description of ourselves might be ‘I am a smart person. I’m not a genius, but my level of intelligence is comparable to others’.
When someone discourteously points out how wrong we are about something (‘Really? You believe that? I thought everyone knows how stupid that is by now’), they introduce an alternative to our self-description: ‘I am not smart, I am less intelligent than others at my level.’
When that happens, our egoic circuitry will attempt to fit the two contradictory information and overheat itself. We might not even be conscious about it. We may only experience it as ‘I can’t explain it with words, but I don’t really like that person.’
By reflecting on why you react in a certain way towards people you don’t like, you might just open a door to understanding something about yourself that you never noticed before.
How do I redesign that reaction into a more useful response?
Find a way to redesign your reaction in a way that makes you more compassionate, not just towards the people you don’t like, but more importantly, towards yourself.
For example, your pattern of reaction might be:
‘Those people are a source of pain. To vent that pain, my response is to endlessly talk to myself and others about how terrible they are.’
With awareness, you can redesign it to:
‘They are characters installed in my spiritual training programme. I’m going to use them to double-check my views about myself and the world. If I’m wrong, they help me to correct my worldview. If I’m right, they help me enhance my confidence. Either way, they just accidentally make me a superior thinker, and a better human being.’
What actions can I take to improve the situation?
There are times when the best action is to completely disconnect yourself from the people you don’t like. There are other times when the best action is to directly confront them. And, of course, there are multiple other options in between the two.
Choose an action that is most economical in terms of your energy and time. Dealing with people you don’t like is intellectually and spiritually expensive. That is why top scholars or public figures often choose to ignore most negatives comments that bombard them.
And if you do need to confront them, do it intelligently. See the whole chessboard. Unleashing harsh words might feel good in the moment, but it costs you more later.
Remember, the way others treat you already exposes who they are. So, the level of compassion in your response doesn’t indicate what they deserve; it unveils who you are.
There is always a better way to deal with people you don’t like
It is fascinating to learn that in Sufi tradition, there is always a higher level of approaches in dealing with people we don’t like.
For example, there exists an idea that you should advance from tolerating the people you dislike, towards loving the goodness in people you despise.
This notion can get so esoteric that following decades of intense spiritual practice, a Sufi may witness goodness even in the Devil himself. She will see that the Devil’s disobedience against God’s command to bow to Adam is arisen out of love. The Devil loves God so much that he never wants to love and to bow to anyone else, even if his misguided love destines him to the Fire.
Of course, in our daily lives, we don’t have to be at that level. But be open to the idea that there is always a better way to deal with people you don’t like.
The next time you read about or meet them in person, get slightly excited. You are about to become a better you.