What Rude People Can Do For Us

Be grateful to everyone.

Posted Mar 08, 2016

When one woman used to be bothered by a person's rude or annoying behavior, her friend told her, “Ah, that’s your tea boy!”


“Your tea boy, the one who makes you grow. The person who bugs you, annoys you, or confronts you so you can keep becoming a better person with how you react.”


Her friend was referring to the famous story about the Buddhist teacher Atisha who went to Tibet. He was told the Tibetan people were so good-natured that they wouldn’t be able to help him stay truly awake and steadfastly compassionate. He was worried he would stop growing in his ability to be kind to everyone (not just the people who were kind to him). He brought along a tea boy who was ornery and mean, to help him stay strong (Chodron, 1994).

The message is “Be grateful to everyone, for the tough ones teach you the best” (Chodron, 1994).

This woman was in the busiest place in the U.S. on the day before Thanksgiving - the grocery store. She brought her 4 kids under 8 years old. 

People jammed plump, tough bags of uncooked stuffing in the hidden corners of their teeming carts. They balanced the cranberry sauce on top of the gravy on top of the salad dressing as if playing solitaire-Jenga in the aisles. They hurled veggie trays and cheap champagne and cans of low-fat gravy and all the other things that scream thankfulness Into their struggling grocery baskets whose cheap green plastic bent a bit under all that pressure.

That mom with 4 kids hadn’t planned on going to the grocery store, but she was supposed to bring the potatoes to family dinner, and she had to get them somehow. In the split-second when she was deciding between Yukon Gold and Idaho Russet, a lady glared at her. “You shouldn’t have brought those kids to a grocery store on a day like today,” she scowled.

Her kids were getting a little jumpy, weaving their kid-carts in and around the scores of people reaching for onions, gnawing on free samples, and obsessively checking for cracked eggs.

The mom, (socks mismatched, baby on her hip, hair a little tangly), smiled up at the woman. “Happy Thanksgiving,” she said, in a sweet and genuine not-sarcastic-at-all voice.

"Who was that, Mama?" her 2-year-old asked.

"That was one of my tea boys," she replied.

I’m always amazed when people refuse to take a stranger’s bad day, insensitive comments and looks, huffs and puffs, sighs and oh-mys to heart. They let these comments roll off their backs like melting Jell-O. They let them pop like a bubble in the breeze. Then they toss back kindness as if playing a friendly game of catch in the yard.

When someone says something rude or ridiculous, we have a right to feelings - whether sad, hurt, or angry. However, meeting such comments with both a protective shield and a compassionate response can help us evolve.

When a stranger, family member, friend, or acquaintance says something that irritates, angers, offends, or sends us swirling into a pool of guilt, we can spot the tea-boy in it. The tea-boy is an opportunity, in a split-second moment, to bring kindness and calm to others, even if they are in the wrong, even if their words bother us. It's not about being a doormat. It's about making a choice to acknowledge the detrimental effect a person's behavior could have on us, but taking the higher ground instead.

“If everyone was nice and agreeable and kind, then we wouldn’t have any opportunities to become better people" (Chodron, 1994).

The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center suggests that the practice of mindfulness - moment to moment awareness of your body and mind - is a regular theme in compassion-building programs. These programs argue that "compassion hinges upon mindfulness." 

Compassion also hinges upon conscious focus, or using awareness of distinct perspectives to guide you in the direction you want to go. Noticing "tea boys" and responding to them kindly is one of these.

"A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you." ~ Dalai Lama XIV


Chodron, P. (1994). Start where you are: A guide to compassionate living. Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA.

Simon-Thomas (2012). Three insights from the cutting-edge of compassion research. Found online at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_insights_from_the_cut...

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of the forthcoming book Joy Fixes for Weary Parents, is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs www.erinleyba.com. Sign up for tools to build personal and family joy at www.thejoyfix.com or follow on Facebook.