The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn has written about how our denial of impermanence is what makes anger and resentment possible. We think we have unlimited time, and therefore the luxury of being mad at someone, or furthering some feud. “If we spend twenty four hours being angry at our beloved,” he wrote, “it is because we are ignorant of impermanence.”
Let every thought be the thought of a dying man, the Stoics say, over and over again. A dying man doesn’t have twenty four hours to be angry. A person who realizes how fragile life is doesn’t take chances in saying things they’ll have to apologize for—because they know they might not get to.
There are many reasons to be a good person, but perhaps the best one might be the fact that this could be your very last opportunity. Do the nice thing now—not later. Don’t hang onto anger you know you’re going to let go of later—let go of it right this second. Don’t contribute to some tit-for-tat argument that you know you’ll both acknowledge was a mistake at the end—stop it now.
We don’t have the luxury. Life is impermanent…but this moment isn’t.
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