I caught a segment on a radio station that listed the most annoying types of people that you might encounter at Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t pay much attention to the segment, other than noting that in recent decades the holidays seem to get more downbeat coverage than upbeat coverage. This year won’t be an exception.
This is one realm where Saipan and the mainland aren’t in synch. Saipan isn’t cynical about the holidays.
But, what the heck, we can play along with the theme and consider the annoying-people-at-the-dinner-table thing. I shall give the matter some beach chair analysis.
I first contemplated the annoying-people cadre when I was a teenager working retail sales jobs. There was a certain breed of malcontent that considered store clerks as ripe targets for unpleasant behavior. They’d employ a threat, either implicit or explicit, that they’d complain to management if the clerk wasn’t sufficiently obsequious.
I rarely had any problems with this, though, since I never cared if I kept my job or not. This, paradoxically, made me a very hard target and it kept interactions on an even keel.
Not all of my co-workers had the luxury of indifference, however. The more they needed to keep their jobs, the more grief they were likely to get from some random neurotic. I never liked seeing those scenes, but there was a silver lining. It reemphasized to my impressionable young mind the importance of using my formative years to get myself in circles with people I wanted to be around. This doesn’t eliminate annoyances entirely, of course, but it can minimize them.
Taking the bigger context of human interaction, you choose your friends. You choose your spouse, and, by virtue of that fact, you also choose your in-laws. If life is kind enough to give you some cards to play, then, to a greater or lesser extent, you can choose your colleagues. And, depending on your profession, you might even be able to choose your customers or clients.
Of course, nothing is perfect even in the best of circumstances. So, in the spirit of the holidays, I’ll offer you a method for dealing with an annoyance. This is especially handy when you’re traveling and likely to encounter strangers who are in a rush and who might be ill-mannered: Instead of cursing your luck at having to interact with them, instead of reacting to them, and instead of being irritated at them, consider that you’re being given a “negative example” of what you don’t want to become.
After all, if someone is rude or annoying, that’s their burden in life, not yours.
When we consider the term “example” we usually think of something positive; something to emulate. But the negative, as a fate or a condition to avoid, can be just as instructive. I think that nature can be kind to us and offer us these periodic lessons, but they don’t do us any good if we don’t have the presence of mind to heed them.
You may have encountered, or seen pictures of, the old design of Chinese coins. These coins were circular on the outside, just like normal coins, but they had square holes in the middle. I’ve since read that the square holes were a vestige of the old-school manufacturing process, but I never bothered to chase down further information on that, so I can’t give a definitive answer as to the rationale behind the design.
But, however the design got there, it allows us to make a concept out of it. We can regard the circular outer edge of the coin as a reminder to have smooth interactions with everyone around us; that’s the external realm. As for the center hole, the angles of its square can be regarded as the sharp points that we reserve for our own self-discipline; this is the internal realm. I know a few people, all of them professionals, who try to keep one such coin in their pocket to serve as a tangible reminder of the tactic.
Looking back at the holiday context, my wife and I don’t have to deal with annoying people at Thanksgiving dinner, or at any other event, since we don’t keep company with them. The holidays serve as a convenient scheduling benchmark all the way around so that kith and kin can make arrangements a year in advance. Outside of that, well, like the Jimmy Buffett song says, “If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.”
Anyway, I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving. The broad discourse will now offer four weeks of often downbeat holiday themes, but I prefer to indulge the holiday spirit, so my final word on the matter is: cheers!