On Irritation

We all do little things all the time that irritate each other because we are human.  Everyone does that to everyone, and we even do that to ourselves.  Have you ever thought, “why did I do that?”, or “that wasn’t smart of me to do?”  Or perhaps you have done something you did or said that you later regret.

To keep peace, we need to be able to discuss those things in the right mind without it becoming an argument or a shouting match.  I have the right to be irritated about things that you do; you have the right to be irritated about things that I do.  It does not have to be logical.  Each of us has a responsibility to not turn these things into a moral issue (unless they truly are).  And to listen to the fact that they irritate and reduce them if we can.  This goes both ways, and it is a perfectly normal part of any relationship, friendship, or even business contact.

We do need to consider the things that irritate us and take some serious self-introspection time on them.  Am I being reasonable to allow that to irritate me?  This is where logic and rationality come into play.  Others cannot (and must not) break into my subconscious and force me to think in ways that make sense to them.  But I am deeply responsible to ensure that the things that I allow to play and operate in my mind are reasonable and logical and adjust if they are not.  We are all a work in progress, but we need to be working at making that progress for our own sake and the sake of others.

As a believer in Christ, I see that there are things I naturally think, feel, believe, and long for that are not in keeping with what is truly good, moral, or right.  As I read scripture and pray and interact with people around me, God brings these things up and wants to deal with them.  It is my responsibility, if I consider Him to be Lord, to accept the redirection and change.  But it is not the responsibility of others to force me to comply with their interpretations.  Nor is it mine to force anyone else to comply with my interpretations.  Although I believe God to always be correct, I can be mistaken – even about what I think God is trying to tell me.  Fortunately, our Maker has amazing patience and love for each of us individually.

If I were to create a pre-marriage workbook, I’d add a document which each person had to read through, fill out, and sign that speaks to irritability and how to handle it.  Irritability is a natural occurrence – if there is none, someone is pretending to be something they are not.  However, failure to handle irritability correctly can cause small cracks in an otherwise solid relationship that widen over time as they weather storms and seasons – eventually causing a structural failure.  Realization that this is the norm and preparing to handle when it arises gives everyone a better chance at success.  I recommend that several specific irritations are mentioned, rather than just the ‘something’.

If it irritates you that I do something, you are allowed to be irritated by that, and it does not have to be logical.  It would be wrong for either of us to make this a moral issue.  It does not mean that I do not care about you if I do it occasionally.  It does not mean you are mentally ill or stupid if it bothers you.  It simply bothers you and you need to tell me.  My response should be to reduce that behavior, but I will not be successful all the time because it does not irritate me or seem logical to me.  (If it did, I wouldn’t be doing it.)  If I never take into account that you might get irritated, then I am likely ignoring your feelings.  If I am careful some of the time, it is because I care enough to do something that seems foolish to me in order to help you with your feelings.  It would not be fair if you expected me to 100% of the time take this into consideration.  Neither of us has any right to blame, bully, accuse, or demean the other around this behavior.  

And this goes both ways.

If it irritates me that you do something, I am allowed to be irritated by that, and it does not have to be logical.  It would be wrong for either of us to make this a moral issue.  It does not mean that you do not care about me if you do it occasionally.  It does not mean I am mentally ill or stupid if it bothers me.  It simply bothers me and I need to tell you.  Your response should be to reduce that behavior, but you will not be successful all the time because it does not irritate you or seem logical to you.  (If it did, you wouldn’t be doing it.)  If you never take into account that I might get irritated, then you are likely ignoring my feelings.  If you are careful some of the time, it is because you care enough to do something that seems foolish to you in order to help me with my feelings.  It would not be fair if I expected you to 100% of the time take this into consideration.  Neither of us has any right to blame, bully, accuse, or demean the other around this behavior.  

Of course, there are other sorts of behaviors that are destructive or hurtful, not simply irritating.  Hitting someone because we do not like what they did is unacceptable.  Being unfaithful or lying is immoral.  Stealing from someone is harmful and damaging.  Being hypocritical needs to be discussed and stopped.  

However, something like clipping toenails after dinner is irritating, but not immoral.  Organizing towels, dishes, or books in a certain way might be irritating, but is not immoral.  The way a person sneezes or swallows might be irritating, or cute, but never immoral.

My focus here is on what is irritating.  We need to mention what irritates us to the one performing the action.  The other person needs to listen instead of justifying why it is morally acceptable or logical to do (because it usually is and that fact does not make it less irritating).  And then we need to both work to be less irritated, jump to fewer false moral conclusions, and try to avoid behaviors we know irritate one another.  Admitting we will not be successful all the time needs to be acceptable to both sides.

“…the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech…” – Barack Obama

The best way to follow the scripture “If it be possible, as much as in you is, have peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) is not to silence dissidence, but to promote rational and safe dialogue. It does little good to force someone to stay with you who yearns to leave. Control incites rebellion. The burning of books does not make their contents less believed, on the contrary it entices great curiosity over what might lie therein. We all have different ideas and values – and especially in a society as varied, rich, and complex as the United States, we need to be not only cognizant of others’ notions, but in dialogue about them with each other. Some ideas, to be certain, are not promoting the general welfare – and that will come out through rational discussion. Other ideas are simply mistaken – and through clear and open dialog, the laws of physics and characteristics of human nature will become evident. Committee may be a terrible way to run anything efficiently, but it is the only way to run something equitably.

The more we know about a person – the miles they have walked in their specific shoes, the rationale they have for what they hold to be true – the more we can see that they are not the enemy at all, rather a brother or sister with a different perspective we likely can also learn a thing or two from.