Irritation Footprint

27 06 2011

We’ve all heard talk about carbon footprints which are basically a measure of how much our activities affect the planet.  What I want to talk about is what I would like to call an Irritation Footprint.  Basically it is a measurement of how much our personality irritates those around us.

When I talk about personality, I’m talking about the “little ways” that all of us have.  I think of them as our neuroses: behavior that relieves tension caused by insecurities, fears, anxiety and everyday life.  The causes are unconscious and irrelevant to this discussion, but let’s just say we all have our own quirks.

Some of these quirks can be quite annoying to those that have to associate with us.  I’ve found that even the most mild-mannered and easy-going people are annoyed by someone and they aren’t always the same people.

It’s like the old Tacoma Narrows Bridge or Galloping Gertie as it was known.  When wind hit it at a certain speed, the bridge would begin to oscillate.  In November, 1940, this oscillation, coupled with the natural frequency of the bridge, began to be self-feeding.  That is, the oscillations were causing the bridge to be even more aerodynamically affected by the wind to the point that it began to experience a phenomenon called aerodynamic flutter.  At this point, the bridge was moving crazily up and down in a twisting motion until it finally resulted in catastrophic failure and snap.  Down went the bridge.

In a similar way, we all have our own natural personality frequency.  When an annoying personality sweeps over us (like wind) it can cause irritation.  This irritation, coupled with a our natural personality frequency, produces a heightened state of annoyance.  This state of annoyance annoys us to the point that the effect becomes self-feeding and builds upon itself until a kind of personality resonance is created.  This can cause us to snap and yell at the person.  Or at the very least to avoid them and complain to our friends about them.

Now that we’ve established what an irritation footprint is all about and the mechanism by which we experience irritation, let’s talk about some specific items that may increase our Irritation Footprint.

1) Body Odor – Okay, this isn’t really a personality quirk but more of the effect of one: poor hygiene skills.  Seriously, deodorant is not that expensive and it is prolific – you can find it at any grocery store.  Buy it, use it.  You may even start to make friends.

2) Whistling – You may be the most innovative melody stylist of the century with perfect pitch to boot, but do you have to constantly whistle while sitting next to me at work?  It may be amusing to you to imitate birds constantly, but I wanted to hear birds whistling, I would spend more time outdoors.

3) Muttering – Talking to yourself is not seen as quite so crazy when you are alone; in the presence of others it is off-putting.  No one needs a running commentary of what you are doing.  If we were that interested, we would be standing behind you, staring over your shoulder and watching you work.

4) Blathering – Some people love to hear themselves speak and mistakenly believe that others find their voice as pleasing as they do.  Inane topics of conversation do have their place, but blatherers do not understand where that place is wouldn’t be able to find it even if they had GPS.  A rather obnoxious subset of blatherers are those that not only love elocution, but specifically love debate.  They love debate to the point that no matter what you say to them, they will take the opposite position and argue with you until the cables of your psyche
snap and your sanity plummets into the Tacoma Narrows.

Some things, like the items listed above, can be considered irritating to most of the population.  Others, like the sound of a specific person’s voice, are only irritating to a select few.  In fact, your voice may be at just the right frequency to bounce around in a certain person’s head and cause a resonance that is annoying.  Hopefully you don’t know the person your voice does that to, but I’m sure you know someone whose voice does that to you.  It usually is no fault of yours or theirs that their voice does that to you, but it can add to a person’s Irritation Footprint.

So what is the solution to this problem?  Well, you could always write a blog complaining about it like some people I’ve known, but those kinds of people seldom ever really offer solutions to the problems they complain about.  (I was tempted to stop the post here in interest of brevity, but if you don’t mind reading a long post, please continue below.)

Here I will provide a few ways I’ve handled people with unusually High Irritation Footprints (HIF).

a) There are lovely things they have these days called Mp3 players.  You stick these little buds into your ear and plug the other end into the device.  It immediately covers the aural pollution with sounds of your own liking and has the added benefit of sending the message that you are engaged and unavailable for interaction.  You don’t even actually need to have the thing turned on to send that message either!

b) In a lot of cases you have the option available to avoid the HIF person.  This is probably the best solution of them all.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible especially if you are assigned to work with them on a project team or you share a cubicle.

c) You can beat them at their own game.  I’m sure the HIF person does not mean to be rude, but you can mean to be.  Rudeness goes a long way to subtly communicate to another person that they are better off avoiding you than they are interacting with you.

d) Ridicule can be your friend, especially if it is done in such a manner that it can be readily denied.  This is a dangerous one, however, because if done wrong, your personal Irritation Footprint will cause a hole to open in the ozone layer and you will find a lot more rude people avoiding you with headphones on.

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