Do not retaliate to verbal abuse.
If someone speaks to us harshly or criticizes us we should never respond with sarcasm or anger. Sometimes it is justified to respond, but never with anger. If we do not get angry in return, we can help the other person calm down, but if we get angry in return we just inflame the situation.
In today’s world, it is very rare for people to physically harm us. From this perspective, we can say that the world we live in is far less hostile and violent than it was in the past. But we have replaced our physical violence towards others with increased verbal violence towards others. If we go on-line to non-Kadampa discussion groups, usually what we find is a bunch of people with anonymous names speaking rudely to one another. We would never talk like this in person with people, but online we get sucked into all sorts of inane verbal battles with people we have never met. When we are “live” with other people, we will rarely be rude to others directly, but once the person has left our presence we talk behind their back, saying all sorts of disparaging and nasty things. Since we do this to others, of course others are doing the same towards us. So we seek our verbal revenge.
Why do people say bad things about us? Why do people verbally assault us? The answer is simple: we did the same to others in the past. We may be good in this life, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have aeons of karmic nastiness just waiting to ripen. Everything others do to us is what we did to others in the past. If we retaliate, we keep the karmic cycle going and it never ends. If instead, we learn to accept such verbal abuse, we can break the cycle once and for all.
It is important, however, to make a clear distinction between “not retaliating” and “allowing others to abuse us.” Sometimes people mistakenly think they should do nothing when others are abusive towards us, viewing it as our opportunity to repay some karmic debt. Not wanting to get angry, they then allow others to mistreat us. This is wrong. We do not help others by allowing them to abuse us because the other person creates terrible karma for themselves for the future. So of course we should use all of the virtuous means at our disposal to prevent others from abusing us. We just don’t retaliate in kind.
The most effective way to disarm somebody else’s abuse is to simply sit down with them and try to work through your difference with a constructive attitude. Apologize if you have wronged them in some way. Genuinely seek to try understand their point of view and why they find you so objectionable. Doing so will often reveal things about us we never knew. Most people attack us out of some feeling of insecurity. If you take the time to understand the basis for their feelings of insecurity and you address those, then often times their attacks will simply disappear. Geshe-la famously said at the Toronto Fall Festival, “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.” If the other person no longer views you as a threat because you have demonstrated to them you only seek to help, then their anger towards you will be “destroyed” and they will no longer be your enemy. Sometimes, however, people aren’t interested in resolving their differences with you. We need to accept this to. In such a case, the best strategy is usually to say, “when you are ready and willing to work through our differences, my door is always open.” But until that time arrives, it is generally best to just break off contact and avoid them. This protects them from creating negative karma towards you.