Irritating People and Why they Irritate

Today I was praying, and for some reason started to think about someone I know who irritates me. (I admit that I’m too easily irritated, but that’s for another post.) When I had this thought – about this irritating person – I remembered a question from Geri Scazzero that I’m learning to ask:

“What does my response to [fill in the blank here – in this case,
the person’s name] say about me?”

And before I answer, let me clarify. I’m referring to people who are loud (I’m quiet.), people who are pushy (I’m accommodating.), people who are messy (I’m organized.), people who are crude (I’m usually fairly well-mannered.), people who talk too much (I’m often quiet.), people who are confrontational (I’m conflict avoidant.), people are all emotional (I’m subdued.), people who are arrogant (I’m ever so humble.), people … well, you get the picture. (I’m sorry if I offended you, my friend, please read to the end before you dismiss me entirely.)

So, “What does my response to a person who irritates say about me?”

Well, that question led to others:

Why do certain people bother me so much?

Is it because they’re not like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were at least a little more like me?

And what exactly is the problem? Why is what irritating people do so irritating or frustrating to me?
Why am I so critical and often so judgmental?

Is it because I’m forgetting God’s “signature” in all his creation – the amazing diversity?
Is it because I’m fooled by the “disguises” that people come in? (Mother Teresa talks about how Jesus himself appears to us regularly in the disguise of the poor.)
Is it because I’m forgetting what a poor template I would be for this new humanity?
Am I threatened by people who are different from me for some reason?
Am I resentful of the extra work it takes to engage in a relationship with and love these people?

Oh, wow. I think perhaps this is where we were headed from the start. It could be that. I suppose that’s what God wanted to say to me today. This is why we started with irritating people in our prayer time. Ouch. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

______

“If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –
but hate those things in yourself, not in another.”
Thomas Merton

“Until we have seen someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know who they are.
Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know what love is.”
Marianne Williamson

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Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Peter Scazzero, Pope Francis, Jesus – and The Big Bang Theory

Bob Newhart appears again as Professor Proton in the most recent episode of CBS’s the Big Bang Theory. In a private conversation with Leonard, Professor Proton decides to ask Leonard something he’s been wondering about when it comes to his roommate Dr. Sheldon Cooper – “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” It’s a natural enough question, but particularly easy to understand in this episode where others and Sheldon all agree that he can be very “annoying.” Sheldon’s “quirks” shine through in every episode.

Sheldon exhibits a strict adherence to routine, a total lack of social skills, a tenuous understanding of humor, a general lack of humility or empathy, and displays textbook narcissistic behavior. He also has a very hard time recognizing irony and sarcasm in other people although he himself often employs them.  … Despite speculation that Sheldon’s personality traits may be consistent with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive personality disorder and asexuality, co-creator Bill Prady has repeatedly stated that Sheldon’s character was neither conceived nor developed with regard to any of these conditions. (Wikipedia)

It’s in this context that Professor Proton wants to know, “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” When I heard Leonard’s answer, I was in a mild state of shock. “He’s broken, and he needs me”, he said, “… and I need him.”

Leonard doesn’t explain how or why he needs Sheldon. Is it because he’s broken too? Is it because of what he learns from Sheldon about himself? about life? about loving well? about what really matters?

Does he learn from their relationship how to look beyond the shell of a person? past the dysfunctions? past the brokenness? past the likely diagnoses? Does he learn not to insist, like so many of us do, that others ought to “be like me” or be “normal” in order for us to accept them? welcome them? truly love them?

If you’ve read much of what’s been written by Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, or Peter Scazzero  (among others) you’ve been reminded how much God means for us to learn from marginalized people (children, the poor, the dying, the elderly, the despised, etc.). If you’ve heard Pope Francis lately, or seen what he’s done, you’ve seen him living out the love of Jesus towards people like Sheldon who don’t fit in.

I remember early in my first year of Bible College, seeing one of the jocks – a really handsome guy, sitting and talking in the Snack Bar with someone who was a “reject” by most standards. You know – not attractive, not athletic, not particularly smart, not cool – not popular! I’m ashamed now to say that I still remember that incident because, at the time, I couldn’t understand it. “Why was he doing that?”

I’m sure that jock was not only more athletic and handsome than me, but also a lot more spiritually mature. Maybe if I would have asked him back then for an explanation, he would have said, “He’s broken and he needs me … and I need him.”

I hope I’ve grown enough since that day that I wouldn’t be so confused seeing something like that now. I want to be like that jock, and like Leonard Hofstadter in his love for Sheldon Cooper. I want to love someone who doesn’t fit in, who isn’t cool, who others ignore – or despise. I want to love someone who, as I love them, God uses to teach me about myself, about life, about what really matters – even simply about what it mean to love in the first place.