On Pet Peeves

Pet Peeve: Something about which one frequently complains; a particular personal vexation.

Several times in the past few weeks I have been asked to list my pet peeves. Usually this takes place in the context of an email thread, online forum or even a lunch conversation. It happened again the other day and I admit I immediately went to work mentally thinking of not just two or three but dozens of things that “get my goat”. And I realized right then and there what a fruitless and wholly unedifying exercise it was. And while reading the responses that rolled forth from others in the email chain I could see why it was such a popular topic: it gave everyone an opportunity to take their eyes off of themselves for a moment and vent about all the injustices they felt were done to them on a regular basis.

Fair enough. Who doesn’t feel the need to unload now and then? But as the emails continued to roll in something else became evident. The peeves were becoming less about perceived annoyances to themselves, and more along the lines of “Why aren’t more people like me? If only more people did things acceptable to me and like I do my life would be perfect.”

I guess I missed commandments eleven and twelve: “Life shalt be fair” and “Thou shalt never be annoyed by others.” Maybe they were on the tablet Mel Brooks dropped in History of the World, Part I.

I asked to be removed from the email exchange because I wanted to keep my focus elsewhere and off of myself. But before I could be removed the next immediate response was “My pet peeve is people who take themselves so seriously.”

Was it aimed at me? I don’t know. Sure I take life seriously at times. But I also have fun, mostly through my interactions with people. My definition of fun isn’t cutting people down, constantly comparing others to myself or mass emailing the latest “People of Wal-Mart” batch of photos to my friends. But whatever floats your boat honey.

It was at that moment that a quote from Thomas Merton came to mind:

To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.

This is what people were setting up. Their own little hells in which the eyes are never focused on themselves, but on the actions of others and in how we think or perceive they are affecting us. It is an exercise in making ourselves the center of the universe…gods of our own self-centered islands. This runs contrary to almost everything we read or hear those who made it their life’s work to serve humanity say. It is when we take our eyes off of ourselves and look at serving others that inner peace is found. Read just a handful of quotes from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and you’ll see what I mean.

I make myself the center instead of God when I stop seeing the people around me, even those who exercise their free will in ways perceived as annoying, as being created in the image of God. That is my pet peeve. Because I am much too flawed to be anyone’s center, let alone my own.

Does this mean that I smile and wave politely each time some schmuck cuts me off in traffic? Of course not. I’m pretty sure that on the road with me is someone grumbling about my driving. When they look in their mirror they may even see this:

I’m not a saint.

But I aspire to be.

©2011 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.


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