Dealing with Difficult People: Sharon Salzberg

It’s no secret that human beings are social animals and with that comes a host of potential difficulties. We can be rude, obstinate, aggressive, impatient, and sometimes just plain difficult to deal with. Sometimes when others are that way with us we take it personally and at the least it can ruin our day at the most it can stick with us for years to come.

Sharon Salzberg wrote The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companionand in it she recites a story from the Buddha that I found a great lesson to help when people are being difficult with us.  

One day a Brahman was visiting the Buddha near a Bamboo Grove. The Brahman angered and displeased went to the Buddha and on arrival insulted and cursed him with rude, harsh words.

When this was said, the Buddha One said to him: “What do you think, Brahman: Do friends and colleagues, relatives and kinsmen come to you as guests?”

“Yes, Master Gotama, Sometimes friends and colleagues, relatives and kinsmen come to me as guests.”

And what do you think: do you serve them with staple and non-staple foods and delicacies?”

Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple and non-staple foods and delicacies.

And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?

If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.

In the same way, Brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, Brahman. It’s all yours.

Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a beating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, Brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”

So what do we take away from this?

People, including us, are carrying a hold host of issues that are brought to any given interaction. If someone is being insulting, if we insult them back, we are basically accepting their insult, sitting down with them at the table and sharing company with someone who we would like rather not share company with.

So the next time someone is rude or insulting to you, remind yourself, “I am not sharing your company, it’s all yours, it’s all yours.”

Note: In this story, the Buddha was not insulting, taunting or berating prior to the Brahman’s behavior. It may be the case that we did do something prior that hurt the other person. If this is the case, then it’s important to look at our part in the picture and move toward reconciliation if possible.

Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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