Xantippe was the wife of Greek philosopher. The word “shrew” was one of the nicer words his friends used to describe her. He observed that if he were a horse trainer, he would choose a horse who was spirited and demanding so his skills would be challenged, not one that was docile and obedient. Not that he ever tamed Xantippe, but he learned to tolerate, accept, and sometimes mollify her, skills that stood him in good stead for life outside the household.
What exactly is a Xantippe? To me it is a person who is convinced that she or he (they come in both genders) is always right and can do what they please without considering who else has a right to be involved, or who might be adversely impacted by what they say or do. A loose cannon. A tyrant. Bossy. Unwilling to listen.
I have had Xantippes in my life. (Fortunately, my late husband was not one of them, and even my mother-in-law —Xantippe-like as she seemed in the early days of our marriage—became a good friend before her untimely death in 1976). There may even have been times when I was someone else’s Xantippe, and I hope that I am astute enough to recognize when that happens, although I tend to be somewhat oblivious. So, when I encounter one of my Xantippes, I have to figure out how to deal constructively with her/him. My first instinct is avoidance, or at least minimizing direct contact. I can try to tactfully dissent, although that is seldom effective. But since I live in a Xantippe-like political environment, I cannot let some of the outrageous statements go unchallenged lest they think that silence means affirmation. After these encounters, I can retreat to my silo of like-minded friends and share my experience with them.
Jon Kabbat-Zinn, the Buddhist teacher, says that each of our children are little Buddhas sent to teach us what we need to learn. Perhaps the same is true of the Xantippe school teachers, the classmates, the neighbors, the colleagues that we encounter. What do my Xantippes—or yours—teach us?
Jesus told us not to make a big deal of the speck in our brother’s eye and ignore the giant piece of wood in our own. I think that is the first Xantippe lesson. All of us can have Xantippe moments or events when we are wedded to our idea, our plan, our understanding of the situation. We need to be aware of attacks of Xantippe-ness within. Second, we don’t want to let a difference of opinion explode into global war, destroying relationships and communities, so a certain amount of toleration and patience is called for. My homeowners’ association labored under two years of petty tyranny before that particular Xantippe grew weary and frustrated with complaints and dropped out of leadership, leaving things much more tranquil. Finally, pick your fights carefully and calmly state your position. It takes a Xantippe to help us develop and hone that skill.
My seminary friends used to describe having an FGE—a (blank) growth experience, leaving it to the reader to supply the missing F adjective. Think of the Xantippes in your life as endless providers of FGEs. If those experiences lead you to develop the necessary coping skills, you will be a better person and more able to cope with those other Xantippes lying in wait.