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The Best Response to an Insult Involves an Ancient Philosophy

Not all insults are created equal

The Stoics viewed an insult from a trusted friend or mentor as something that would benefit them, a real occasion for self-improvement that should be received with gratitude.

You should pay extra attention to the input of the people you respect, because they have some important insights about you. An insult from someone you respect is an insult informed by experience, and it should be careful considered, even if it’s painful.


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The Best Response to an Insult Involves an Ancient Philosophy

The Best Response to an Insult Involves an Ancient Philosophy


Key Ideas

Stoicism and insults

In ancient Greece and Rome, the Stoics (philosophers that taught the value of emotional resilience) advised their devotees to let insults go.

The Stoics weren’t pushovers, they just knew that not all insults were created equal. And most importantly, they knew how to decide which ones to ignore and which to take to heart.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”

Put yourself in your critic's shoes

Question your assumptions about your critic's intention. Insults are not always meant to be harmful insults are designed to be harmful. The line between an insult and a piece of well-intended constructive criticism is almost always subjective.

Thus, to soften the impact of an insult, put yourself in your critic's brain and ask: What were they trying to accomplish with that comment?

Accept that you have flaws

To absorb more fully what’s being said about you and really read it as an opportunity for self improvement, work to diminish sensitivity to your own imperfections.

This means you have to accept the idea that you have flaws, and that sometimes, people are going to point them out.




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Build a village

You are only as strong as the people around you.

You can control whom you interact with, so build a strong personal and professional coalition: hire people with positive energy and create a circle of friends from different backgrounds for engaging conversations.

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Negative visualization

It is a stoic practice in which one deliberately imagines how things could be really bad, much worse than they are now. It is a visualization of one’s biggest fears. It is a kind of psychological trick that lowers your expectations and makes reality look better.

According to the Roman philosopher Seneca, apart from embracing the negative emotions, one needs to maximize the positive outlook and learn how to feel real joy.


“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing."

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