When People Irritate Us
RECENTLY, a tourist in the Orient reported to the hotel manager that his watch was missing. When, after some time, the watch had not been returned, the tourist became convinced that the manager had ignored his complaint. In his irritation, he threw all his clothes, a wastebasket and a television set out of the window of his 18th-floor room into the pool area below!
Have you ever been so frustrated at other people that you felt like reacting violently? Many have. Others become quiet when offended, thinking, ‘I’ll never speak to him again!’ This happened in a small town in the Philippines where two men were in conflict over the ownership of a plot of land. For a long time, neither would speak to the other. But are these the best ways to handle a situation when people irritate or offend us?
Such reactions only add to the problem. The tourist did not get his watch back because of his tantrum; but likely he did get a large bill for damages. The silence of the two neighbors did not solve the land problem; but it did cause distress and embarrassment to their families, friends and neighbors. Surely there must be a better way!
Jesus Christ showed a more effective way. Like us, he was surrounded by imperfect and fallible people, and sometimes their failings distressed him. Sometimes he was “indignant,” or “groaned deeply with his spirit” at people’s actions or attitudes. (Mark 8:12; 10:14) But he did not react violently or withdraw into long periods of silence. Rather, he often tried to help people to recognize their problems and overcome them.
Jesus was able to do this effectively because of his deep love for his fellowman, especially his followers. As he said to them: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” This love was especially seen when Jesus dealt with human weaknesses. Further, he was able to handle these in a balanced way because, as he himself said: “I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” Handling personal difficulties in a mild and humble way is usually successful.—John 13:34; Matt. 11:29.
Jesus’ Handling of Irritations
Has anyone ever made a promise to you and then not fulfilled it? Or have you ever made an appointment with someone who did not show up? True, such experiences are annoying. Nevertheless, are such disappointments good reason for uncontrolled anger or icy silence?
Consider Jesus’ way of dealing with his apostles on the night before his death. This was a severe time of testing for Jesus. He had gone to the Garden of Gethsemane with his apostles and had told them: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death. Stay here and keep on the watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38) Then he went a little way off to pray. When he came back, what did he find? All the disciples were asleep! In waking them up still he reacted with compassion.
Jesus recognized that their motive was not bad but that they were subject to human imperfection. Hence, he said: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:36-46) Even later, when the apostles abandoned him to his enemies and Peter denied him, Jesus did not give up on his friends. Instead, he took steps after his resurrection to strengthen them and to help them to overcome their weaknesses.
What a fine attitude! The apostle Paul said: “Love . . . hopes all things.” Hence, instead of giving up on our friends when we feel let down by them, why not—like Jesus—recognize that perhaps their motive is good although they suffer from human imperfection? This is a loving thing to do, and may lead to helping them not to let us down next time.—1 Cor. 13:4, 7.
How About Repeated Failings?
Of course, problems are not always solved with one reminder. As parents well know, children usually have to be told something over and over again before it finally sinks in. The same can be true of adults.
It was certainly true of Jesus’ early followers. For example, on one occasion they were arguing among themselves about who was the greater. Jesus heard them and took the opportunity to explain that among his followers there would be no positions of overlordship. Rather, he said: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and minister of all.”—Mark 9:35.
In spite of Jesus’ clear explanation, not many months later two of his apostles openly asked to be given the two most important positions next to him in the Kingdom. The others were angry, but Jesus did not get angry. Rather, he patiently explained once again: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”—Matt. 20:24-27.
Once more, the night before Jesus died the record tells us, “there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.” Yet again, Jesus patiently repeated his explanation that among his followers there were no positions of overlordship, only service. This time, in order to impress the point more firmly on their minds, he gave a practical demonstration. With his own hands, he washed the feet of each of the apostles there present. That was what he meant by “minister”!—Luke 22:24-27; John 13:3-5.
At last, the apostles seem to have grasped the point. Many years later, the apostle Peter wrote a fine letter to the Christian congregations, wherein he passed this information on. He explained to those taking the lead in the congregations that they ‘should not lord it over those who are God’s inheritance, but should become examples to the flock.’—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
We, too, will respond properly to the repeated irritations to which others may subject us, if we react as Jesus did. We can do this if we cultivate the same kind of love, mildness and lowliness of mind that Jesus possessed.
Following Jesus’ Example
Jesus counseled us to be loving and forgiving to our spiritual brothers even if we had to forgive them “up to seventy-seven times.” However, what if our brother commits a serious offense? Jesus urged us to speak to the offender personally and in private. Then, “if he listens to you,” said Jesus, “you have gained your brother.”—Matt. 18:15, 22.
In handling such situations, however, it is good to remember that while Jesus was perfect we are not. If our friends irritate us, likely we do the same to them from time to time. What a fine thing to handle their offenses against us the same way we would want them to handle our offenses against them—with love, mildness and humility! This is truly applying Jesus’ words: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matt. 7:12.
Recognition of our own imperfections will help in another way. Jesus had remarkable perception and could discern the motive and heart condition of people. We are limited in this regard. If we feel hurt or irritated, it may be we have misunderstood the situation and that nothing bad really was intended against us. For example, on the occasion mentioned in the introduction, the tourist was mistaken. The manager had handled the matter, and the police were actually investigating the case.
Even if we are convinced that we are in the right, we should still be humble. This makes it much easier for someone else to want to put right any wrong he may have done. Jesus said the purpose of speaking to the one who had offended us was to ‘gain our brother.’ Handling the problem with mildness and humility will likely bring this about.
That was the experience of the two men who refused to speak to each other because of a land problem. After an extended period of silence, they unexpectedly found themselves sitting next to each other in a public conveyance. One was humble enough to apologize for his wrong attitude. That ‘broke the ice,’ and the two men embraced. Now their problem could be handled in a peaceful way, without causing distress and embarrassment to those around them.
Yes, three Christlike qualities—love, mildness and humility—can improve our relationship with others. When people irritate us, these qualities can help us to handle the situation in a constructive way, usually with happy results. Surely they are qualities that none of us, if we carefully think about it, can do without!
“Doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Phil. 2:3, 4.