Come with me, Dear Readers, on a little thought experiment.
Imagine you know a person. Let us call him Gerald. Gerald does not know you very well, nor do you know Gerald very well, but he is in your life in the way that people sometimes are.
Gerald, blithe and bonny and with the very best of intentions, does something fairly regularly which you find catastrophically annoying.
Actually, annoying is not a very good word for it. You do end up feeling grumpy and resentful and annoyed, but at first the thing itself is not so much annoying as smothering, and battering, and even sometimes slightly alarming. There are moments, before you talk yourself down off the ceiling, when it feels as if it denies your very sense of self, your sense of agency, your sense of discernment. This, you know, is absurd, since the thing itself is so small as to be insignificant. So you end up not in an existential vortex, but just quite annoyed.
The problem is that Gerald has absolutely no idea of all this. Gerald thinks he is being kind and helpful. Gerald is kind and helpful. This makes you even more annoyed, because how can you be annoyed with nice Gerald and all his good intentions? You start to fear that you are not the decent human you pretend to be.
Well, any sane person is almost certainly saying, could you not simply ask kind Gerald to desist?
You could. That would be the Occam’s Razor solution. But the problem is that you don’t really know Gerald well enough. You fear that however politely you phrased it, the request would sound churlish and uncharitable. It would be a rejection, of sorts. It could come out all wrong, and cause pain.
Then you start to wonder: perhaps it is your very own problem. You reckon that if you put it to a straw poll, there might be quite a lot of people who think that what Gerald is doing is perfectly acceptable. Those people might look at you as if you are a bit nuts in the head. So maybe the solution lies not in confronting Gerald, but in confronting yourself.
You wonder whether this is the essence of being a grown-up. People are always going to do things that you do not like. They are going to tell you things that upset you, and neglect to do things that would make you happy, and carelessly trample all over your finer feelings without knowing what it is they do. Why is it their responsibility to put themselves in your rather eccentric shoes? Perhaps it is your job to butch up and deal with it. The world, after all, does not revolve around you.
Essentially, you have two choices. A: You ask Gerald not to do the thing, and you risk hurting Gerald’s feelings for no particularly good reason. Or, B: you work sternly on yourself and realise that you are not the star of your very own opera and that it is your responsibility to deal with your singed feelings and not other people’s job to step around your tender sensibilities when they have plenty of sensibilities of their own to be worrying about.
What would you do?
My feeling is: B.
Bugger. I’m pretty much convinced that B is the only answer. Which means that I have to be the grown-up. I like to think that I am a grown-up but the truth is that there are times when I find it very tiring. I quite want to be six years old and lie down in fury and drum my heels on the floor. But I am nearly fifty, and throwing all the toys out of the pram is not a good look, at this age. Bugger, bugger, bugger.
Still, it's quite a relief to have worked all that out. Now I have to go and rummage for my sensible hat and put it on my sensible head and march out in my sensible boots to face the sensible day.