I was struck by the similarity between the quote in the graphic above and something the Buddha’s recorded as having said:
Whoever doesn’t flare up at someone who’s angry wins a battle hard to win.
It’s also very reminiscent of these verses in the Dhammapada:
133.Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.
134. If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached Nibbana, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.
I was a bit surprised, though, to see a comment made by the person who shared the graphic:
I love this one: it usually irks the attacker even more.
Remaining silent in order to irk someone isn’t a very noble motive.
Taking pleasure in someone else getting angry is, from a Buddhist point of view, unskillful. It’s just a subtle form of aggression. Our desire should always be to reduce the amount of suffering our actions cause.
If we “irk” someone, they then go away in a state of resentment, which causes them to suffer. And out of their suffering they’ll likely cause suffering for others as well.
Buddhism encourages us to practice compassion. We should have a concern for the well-being and happiness of ourselves, the person who is trying to make us mad, and all other beings who might be affected.
By remaining silent instead of getting into an argument, we avoid creating unnecessary conflict. In that way there’s less suffering. The other person might get mad in the short term even if we’re not intending to provoke them, but in the long-term they’ll benefit because you’ve given them less to be resentful about. You might even have modeled compassionate non-reactivity for them.
You might experience discomfort in the short term because part of you really wants to fight back, but in the long term you’ll have less to regret and your emotional state will be more peaceful.
The Buddha alluded to the difficulty of not responding harshly to harshness when he said,
Knowing that the other man is angry,
He mindfully maintains his peace
And endures the anger of both,
His own, as well as of the other
It’s better to endure your own anger than to inflict it on someone else. It’ll be painful, but it’ll pass.
With training, we can even learn not to be angry:
People out of control stab with words,
When they hear a harsh word spoken,
a mendicant should endure with no anger in heart.
Of course it’s not necessary to remain silent in order to respond compassionately to another person’s aggression. Responding with words that express overt kindness and compassion is another way of “not flaring up.” That’s even more beautiful than remaining silent.