One element is certainly the tone with which a comment or conversation is delivered. This is why text and email are such dangerous communications media. No tone at all. No ability to soften or sharpen a statement to modulate the message in any way. But then there are times when the person communicating is standing right in front of you, or maybe on the phone and we get the full benefit of their tone and we wished we hadn’t. Because the obnoxious tone, coupled with the offensive comment is enough to send us over the edge. And yes, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?
And then there’s the situation where the issue isn’t so much what is said or how the message is delivered. It’s the history between two people that tars every statement with the bad blood of a difficult relationship. So when my mother used to make comments on my clothes and appearance, even if the comments were relatively benign, they would set me off as much as if she had accused me of dressing like a two-bit whore. Oh, wait, she did accuse me of dressing like a two bit whore. Which is why pretty much everything she said to me pissed me off. She’s gone now but there are others, who shall remain nameless, who make me angry no matter what they say. And part of that is the fact that he has been saying nasty things to me for twenty years. So I get to be annoyed.
Sometimes, the issue is simply where we are in the present moment that spoils a comment or a conversation for us. If I’m in a pissy mood, which happens more often than I would like, I can take offense or just get fed up with something someone says just because. But if they said the same thing to me when I was in a better mood, no harm, no foul. Which seems kind of unfair to the poor unfortunate who pissed me off because I was in a bad mood. Oh, well.
Another thing that can completely derail my equanimity is the Chinese water torture of someone who just does not know when to quit. Just like Celyn in Light My Fire who asks question after question after question, it can drive a person to drink. I have a kid like that. God love his curiosity, it’s a wonderful quality. Except when I cannot answer any more question lest my head explode. Although I try not to show my impatience so I don’t quash his inquiring mind, which I am certain will serve him well in his adulthood.
The only productive way to handle this issue, then, is to ask ourselves a series of questions involving how we can channel this irritation toward the greater good, rather than becoming mired in impatience and eventually bitterness. No one likes a curmudgeon. So, what can we do about it? What would we like to do versus what should we do, that is the question. Personally, I’d like to make sure everyone who annoys, offends or irritates me gets it back in spades. But that is neither practical nor nice, so let’s move beyond that particular fantasy. What we should do about it is a two-fold prescription: first, let it roll off of you. You know, like a duck. Second, turn off the revenge fantasies. No getting back at folks who annoy us. It is not a good plan.
Because in truth, the problem is ours not theirs. Any irritation or impatience we feel toward someone else says a lot more about us than it does about them, of course. Only we have the power to give away our power and allow others to disturb our serenity. So don’t do it. Just say no. Smile at the irritating person and tell them how much you enjoy their witty repartee. Abandon our high horses and jump down to earth. Because that is the major function of being irritated with others: it makes us feel superior– we are less irritating, less annoying, smarter and more clever than our exasperating friends and family. We simply feel better when we are irked. Which is why we need to avoid these specious feelings of vexation and resultant superiority. We need to be tolerant and calm. Not for anyone else’s benefit, but for our own.
So, I’ve come full circle. Celyn gave me the exuse to indulge in thinking about how everyone was annoying me. I was happy to think it was them not me. But I’ve come to realize it’s me, not them. Wow, that sucks. Only good news is that I have a lot more control over myself than others. So if it is within my power to be the duck, then I’m gonna start quacking. I’d rather be a dragon, of course, but it’s not clear water rolls off their scales as well as feathers. A question for the ages.
Merry Christmas, to all who celebrate. Happy night to all who don’t. The New Year is almost upon us. Are you getting ready to set your intentions for 2015?