The driver who rudely cuts in front of our car infuriates us because we deem the discourtesy as a personal affront; but it’s not.  The driver of that car doesn’t even know your name, so how can it be “personal?”  When people are discourteous, inconsiderate or rude, it’s usually indicative of a deeper problem, which is why it’s pointless to snarl back at them.   Because as much as we’d like to ‘give ‘em the finger’ virtual or otherwise, we would just be confirming to the ill-mannered individual what he or she already believes, that life is joyless drudge.

A close friend is fond of saying that dourness is a kind of deficiency disease, and people who are habitually angry or peeved about something lack ‘emotional vitamins in their psychic bloodstream.’  And unfortunately, there’s much evidence of this in the world.

Last Thursday I walked into a recently re-opened retail establishment and the most charitable thing I can say about the situation I encountered was that the woman behind the counter had ‘an attitude.’  When I questioned her about the functionality of a particular item I was thinking of buying she immediately became defensive as if I were holding her responsible for the manufacturer’s design flaws.  My initial reaction was to respond in kind, but then my better angels took hold and I responded to her if she was ill and suffering from a painful malady.  Interestingly, when framed within that context, my attitude towards her changed and my annoyance and resentment instantly dissipated.

As I left the store it occurred to me that this woman is condemned to live that way 24/7, whereas after about 60 seconds I was able to break contact, leave the store and go on my merry way.  Studies have shown that 20% of the people in any given population are emotionally disturbed to a degree that’s noticeable by others.  And while no one enjoys interacting with such people, let’s be thankful for the other 80%.

My lovely wife Bobbi always says to me, “Just don’t bother with them, don’t waste your emotional energy,” which sometimes is easier said than done, but Bobbi is right, and I’ve learned to respect her counsel.  Perhaps my favorite writer of all time, Sydney Harris said the same thing although a bit more poetically, “People who do not say thank you, or do not hold a door open after them or refuse to allow you into a line of cars are not fit subjects for moral judgment.”  A rather useful perspective I think.

When people display reactive irritability we must realize they are missing something in their lives and the sad reality is we cannot help them.  The best we can do is refuse to respond in kind and thus keep the disease from spreading.

Quote of the day:  “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”—Dale Carnegie

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