In their ongoing dialogues, THEOPHILE THE ELDER and THEO THE YOUNGER continue to explore aspects of human behavior and self-development. Here they discuss some strategies for dealing with enemies, injustice, and managing anger.
That morning, Theo was very agitated. He had hardly sat facing his friend when he started sharing his problem.
Theo: I have been developing intense anger all these years, due to a neighbor who harmed my family and me. I hate him and I can’t help it.
Theophile the Elder looked at him, quite amazed.
Theo: Yes, I know. But it’s all about his wicked, twisted, and unfair behavior. I feel as if he were a piece of chewing gum stuck on the sole of my shoe. I can’t get rid of it. As soon as I see the man, or even when I think of him, my anger is back.
Elder: You are going to make yourself sick!
Theo: I’m already sick. My stomach hurts, there are moments when I feel oppressed, and I often have a headache.
Elder: According to Chinese Medicine, the Liver Fire is what gives you such symptoms. They are caused by anger and resentment. Let’s explore it further. In your case, what happened?
The old man needed more information.
Theo: I went to court to assess my rights.
Elder: And did you win the legal fight against your adversary?
Theo: Legally it was a win, but he did not pay enough for my liking, considering all the harm he had done to me.
Elder: So, the fight is still on. Your neighbor has succeeded in crossing your barriers and he is now partly occupying your inner space. You may also be in his mind since you won the case against him. He probably hates you. Your anger is what provides access to his anger. Through your mental and emotional attitudes, you have opened a way for him to penetrate within you. So now he can overrun you, reach your heart and plague your life.
Theo: You make it sound like war!
Elder: Currently, you are effectively in a constant state of war, so you’d better live it as a warrior would. This book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, is traditional literature in China, and it is still in use in colleges in many countries, since strategy is first and foremost simple psychology.
For example, making the enemy General angry is a clever trick, as it will destabilize him and confuse his mind, so that he won’t be able to clearly see the way the battle is unfolding, or devise sustainable strategies. Being angry, he will tend to charge ahead and seek revenge at all costs. Therefore, his engagement will be weak based on his own self-delusion, boldness, and temerity. Some people may call it courage; but, in fact, an enemy is more easily defeated once you have provoked their anger and thus opened a breach.
Theo: But I have won!
Elder: Do you really think so?
The Elder marked a pause while Theo seemed to be thinking the matter over.
Elder: You have not won the emotional and the mental war. Once a warrior has won or lost the war, he agrees that the war has ended. He has no more enemy. He is at peace. He is ready for another battle whenever it may come. Meanwhile, he practices peacefully.
You have not won the emotional and the mental war.
Once a warrior has won or lost the war,
he agrees that the war has ended.
He has no more enemy. He is at peace.
He is ready for another battle
whenever it may come. Meanwhile,
he practices peacefully.
The problem is that your head and your emotions are going on fighting, which cuts you off from your heart. It might be tragic for you and your balance. Basically, your neighbor has highlighted for you a significant weakness that still abides in yourself.
Theo: So now you are going to ask me to be very grateful to him, I guess.
Elder [smiling]: That’s almost it! In fact, you can thank the Divine who let you see that weakness, the tendency you still have, and who gave you an opportunity to correct it. Your neighbor is a mere indicator for you. The strength of your recurrent emotions is only a sign, a symptom of that weakness within you.
Theo: But he was proven wrong!
Theo was now irritated.
Elder: So? You won, didn’t you? Justice was done. Then why should you continue the war? I’m sorry to tell you, but that weakness of yours will be used against you by your enemy or by any other person. Any serious adversary will easily defeat you.
Theo: I don’t think so. I am strong and intelligent enough to know how to defend myself. Next you are going to tell me all about love again, aren’t you?
Elder: I might.
Elder: Isn’t that what we’ve already done on many occasions in the past?
The old man marked a pause again and remained quietly focused on his hotheaded friend.
Theo: The warrior instinct is in you. That is another way to approach the Divine, but it is a demanding one. Arjuna is a good example in the Bhagavad Gita.
But Theo’s anger was not soothed yet.
Theo: I’d like to plague his life just as he has plagued mine. That’s a fair return, isn’t it?
The Elder tries to temper him.
Elder: Let us keep calm, shall we? Some families have carried on their hatred through generations. Sometimes, they even forgot the root cause of such hatred, but their war has become a tradition and the families will hate each other forever.
Theo [sulking]: So now you see me as a dunce.
The old man smiled and mocked his young friend.
Elder: More or less!
In fact, you can thank the Divine
who let you see that weakness,
the tendency you still have,
and who gave you an opportunity to correct it.
Your neighbor is a mere indicator for you.
The strength of your recurrent emotions is only a sign,
a symptom of that weakness within you.
Theo: Well, now, do tell me, what would you do in this kind of situation?
Elder: I would take all necessary action to address it, on the purely practical side. Then, once it is done, I would forget all about it. Life is great, so it’s really worth living it completely, enjoying all the gifts it offers.
Theo: And what of the difficulties, the problems entailed?
Elder: I deal with them as best as I can. See what Marcus Aurelius used to say about it:
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
Then, I am happy under all circumstances, at least, almost all of them.
The old man realized that Theo’s anger was one of the oldest and most enduring forms of anger. So, he did not insist. Instead, he decided to think over all they had been talking about that day. Before leaving his young friend, he offered one more suggestion.
Elder: Theo, an enemy is supposed to be fought on the battlefield. Once the war has ended, he is no longer an enemy. That is sheer chivalry, an art that Lord Krishna taught to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Looking very thoughtful, Theo watched Theophile the Elder as he was leaving, after having invited his young friend to stay calm and serene.
An excerpt from Dialogues with Theophile the Elder