Annoyance, Irritation, and Oblivion

Posted on May 16, 2014


Obliviousness, is that a word?  If not, I am claiming it.  Here’s my working definition: the state of being unaware of what is happening around one’s self or a lack of awareness of one’s impact on others.  We know what it looks like, right?  1) You are in the supermarket and someone has their cart in the middle of the aisle so that no one can get by while they are reading labels.  2) The light turns green, the person in front of you does not move.  In that situation, five seconds can seem like forever.  3) You have your food or coffee and there is someone standing there having a conversation.  You realize they are not aware of your presence so you wait to try to get by.  Just when you think the coast is clear and you start to move past is the moment they back up.  4) You are walking down a residential block.  The car backing out sees the car coming the other way, but does not see you.  5) You are on your way to work in the morning.  The freeway onramp meter allows 2 cars per green.  You are the fourth car in line.  When it is their turn, the second car in line doesn’t go.   6) At the gym they have two elliptical machines in the front row of the aerobic equipment.  One is out of order.  The other has someone’s stuff left on it.  You have to take a machine in the third row from which you cannot read the closed caption on the TV while you are working out.  About a half an hour later, the person comes to collect their things without using the machine.  Annoying, right?

Here’s the problem.  Sometimes I am the one who left my keys or my nook sitting on the aerobic equipment and have to retrace my steps to come back for them.  Sometimes I am the one backing out of the driveway that did not see the pedestrians.  Sometimes I am the one who did not notice you wanting to get by behind me.  We are all the one who is oblivious at some time.  Though it is unlikely that I will ever fail to go on the freeway onramp when I am the second in line, there are probably a lot of other situations in which I am the one who is oblivious.

Recently I was speaking to both addicts and partners on sexual addiction recovery.  The point of the talk was to achieve a 2nd order change where you move beyond changing your behavior to actually achieving peace and healing.  One of my points is that shame reduction is critical to recovery.  We need to be able to differentiate guilt (I did something bad) from shame (I am bad), and repentance (I feel bad about what I did because of what it did to you and our relationship) from shame (I feel bad about what I did because of what it says about me).  In essence, shame is the enemy of connection.  Shame causes us to hide.  As part of the presentation, I had the audience say together, “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection” (which I shamelessly plagiarized from Brene Bown).  The point is that perfectionism is a cruel master and keeps us in shame.  During the course of the discussion, together we modified this mantra to “I will hold myself and others to a standard of grace, not perfection.”  I am grateful for the gift of this slogan.

About a decade ago, I bought a copy of the New Testament in Hawaii Pidgin.   I really appreciate some of the language in this version.  In John Tell Bout Jesus 13:34-35, Jesus says, “I give you guys one new ting you gotta do: show love an aloha for each odda.  If all you guys get love an aloha for each odda, everybody goin know you my guys.”  In Mark Tell Bout Jesus 10 when Jesus is talking with Da Young Guy Dat Get Plenny Stuff (i.e. the rich young man), we read that “Jesus wen look at um, an get aloha fo him.”  Aloha means affection, peace, compassion, and mercy.[1]  It combines aspects of shalom in Hebrew and agape in ancient Greek.

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, it is like this.  I find it is fairly easy to offer a gracious response when someone is oblivious.  It is trickier to extend them grace in my internal experience.  Enter Project Aloha.  Project Aloha is about holding others to a standard of grace, not perfection.  It is about taking “every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5).  My assertion is that it is not enough to hold others to a standard of grace in how I respond, but also in how I think about them.  This is not about just not showing irritation, but about learning not to be irritated.

In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg included a chapter titled “The Unhurried Life: The Practice of ‘Slowing’” in which he describes the disease of “hurry sickness.”  This is where we constantly speed up on our daily activities and multi-task in the hopes of getting more done.  The problem is that it gets in the way of our ability to love.  When hurry sickness is at its worst, it is hard to have love and aloha for anyone who is in the way of completing my daily tasks as quickly as possible.  So part of Project Aloha needs to be slowing down and putting the people in front of the tasks.

So far I have just been talking about how we relate to strangers.  Where this is most important is in how we relate to the people closest to us in life.  Living with another human being takes a lot of grace.  As those great philosophers, The Gin Blossoms, sang, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”  Those closest to you will not be perfect.  Life is much better if we can have love and aloha for them anyway.  It is a great gift to be loved and accepted as you are.  It is a blessing to give that gift as well.  As a friend of mine has observed, “Opportunities for forgiveness abound.”

One side note is needed here.  If you are finding that your irritation is difficult to cope with, there is something else you may want to consider.  Irritability is often a symptom of Major Depressive Disorder.  Men particularly often experience irritability rather than depressed mood as a primary symptom of depression.  This is not suggesting that you should diagnose yourself.  If you are finding yourself annoyed all of the time, you may want to have that checked out by your physician, therapist, or psychiatrist.

Perfectionism is a cruel master and gets in the way of joy and connection.  Do you really want to be perfect anyway?  Say this with me, “I will hold myself and others to a standard of grace, not perfection.”  Keep saying it.

[1] Please don’t tell anyone I used Wikipedia as a source.