October 14, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Being irritable can be so irritating for others

Cynthia DewesBeing irritable is one of our minor human failings. But, I’ll bet even God would be irritated now and then, if it were possible for God to be irritated at all. We must put a strain on God’s patience, as we do on our fellow humans’ feelings.

Now, nobody said the things that irritate us are rational or important. They usually aren’t. So we mostly keep still and bear whatever disturbs us. But, as we all know, I have trouble keeping still. In my case, the latest irritation is hearing “through my most grievous fault” mispronounced by many folks at Mass. “Grievous” should be pronounced “Greev-us” and not “Greev-ee-us.”

This is not earthshaking or sinful, but to me it’s just irritating. My friends know how I feel about this, and they roll their eyes at such nitpicking. I don’t blame them, but I just can’t help it. It seems that what irritates one person doesn’t bother another.

Another word-related pet peeve of mine is hearing the phrase, “at this point in time.” Say what? Whatever happened to a simple “at this point” or (gasp!) “now”? John Dean or whatever Watergate villain coined that phrase should be prosecuted for that error, too.

When I was dating, about a century ago, I paid close attention to irritability factors in the boys I went out with. Wearing gabardine shirts and pocket protectors full of pencils were items high on my discard pile. And I also couldn’t tolerate a guy’s gushing over me, which made me suspicious of his motives. I was not exactly the delectable cheerleader type, and thus un-gushable.

My mom was irritated by dirt and disorder. She was, in fact, a Neat Freak. Thus, her house was “a regular hospital,” as a visitor observed. As a result, my dad and I were well-trained, and to this day, I feel uncomfortable if my home is messy. My poor kids will testify to that.

Now, there are things which irritate almost all of us. Things like bad hygiene in another person, or talking loudly on a cell phone in public places like restaurants or meetings. In fact, being rude or disregarding others’ feelings irritates most people. Insect attacks, snoring bedmates, unattended runny noses and off-key singing also come to mind.

Some irritations may be cultural or regional. I know of many Europeans who are irritated by Americans’ display of the U.S. flag, singing the national anthem, etc. They consider it a sign of arrogance, unjustified pride and dominance.

Their history has given them an entirely different feeling about nationhood. Not that they are not proud to be German or French, but considering their past, they’re just cautious about how that pride is expressed in national policy.

Some of our countrymen are irritated by Southern accents or laconic Western attitudes. Others are put off by the unrelenting wholesomeness of some Midwesterners, or the superiority complexes of some Easterners and Californians.

Still, we’re all irritated if someone other than an American criticizes any of us. We can be irritated by decisions and actions made by our government leaders, but we’ll defend them from “outsiders.” Apparently, one man’s irritation is another’s cherished ideal.

It all comes down to the old Golden Rule, the arbiter of Christian behavior: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And be careful not to irritate them.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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