Pin Pricks and Pet Peeves

This is the third article in a short series on forgiveness. We have explored the dramatic and traumatic stories of Saint Rita and Corrie Ten Boom. In this article, we’ll be thinking about the million-and-one pin pricks that we receive and give to others every day. Though these aren’t dramatic or traumatic in themselves, when not attended to they can lead to drama and trauma and to the need for forgiveness in order to restore peace in a relationship.

These pin pricks never show up in the biographies of saints. We certainly don’t expect to read about Saint Rita’s frustration when her husband left his socks on the floor every morning or how Corrie was driven crazy by the way her father repetitively tapped his pencil on the desk. But, honestly, we have to face the fact our lives are full of these pet peeves that get under our skin and in the way of our relationships…and probably our saints had a few pet peeves themselves.

A quick Google search for pet peeves reveals that there are lists of pet peeves about just about everything: Wikipedia defines a pet peeve as “a minor annoyance that an individual finds particularly irritating to them, to a greater degree than would be expected based on the experience of others.”

One list of 70 pet peeves includes: chewing sounds, interrupting during a conversation, texting during a meal, throat clearing, leaving cabinet drawers open, not screwing the lids onto bottles and containers all the way, cutting lines, talking during movies, being late, cracking knuckles, and, well, you get the point…. I have to admit I do some of these things myself and am probably driving at least one sister I live with nuts.

One evening I learned a really important lesson. I was washing the dishes and had accidently left the sprayer option on the water faucet. When I turned on the water to rinse the dishes, I  sprayed not only the dishes but also my superior who was standing next to the sink to get water for the coffee pot. There was no response. No surprise. No disgust. No anger. No running to clean off her habit. Nothing. “It’s okay,” she said. “Don’t worry.” And that was the end of that. I learned two things that night, however. One: Always check to make sure you don’t have the sprayer left on when you turn on the water. Two: You don’t always need to give a dramatic reaction to make your point.

Back to my Google search for “pet peeves.” There are office pet peeves, driving pet peeves, as well as pet peeves particular to flight attendants, and teachers, and doctors, and veterinarians, and admissions counselors. There are annoying trends that drive us crazy about email, about social media, about sports, about teams. Pet peeves are a part of daily life.

When minor annoyances are not addressed over time, they can have serious effects on a relationship. The way someone who lives or works close to us chews, or piles things on their desk, or hums while they work, or leaves the newspaper on the table, or insists on giving their opinion rather categorically about just about everything, can make us feel misunderstood, not appreciated, unimportant. And we so often do things that make others feel the same way or worse.

Practices for addressing pet peeves

Here are some practices you can develop that will keep those pet peeves from ruining your day and your relationships:

Practice expressing respect actively and frequently throughout the day. Get in the habit of noticing what you like about other people and telling them what about them delights you. Tell others, in their presence, how great they are in a particular area. Build up a groundwork of trust and respect for each other.

Share behaviors that could be pet peeves that bother other people. Keeping things light and humorous, take some time to share with the people who work or live nearest you your own behaviors that could bother others. “I know I talk to myself at my desk here. It’s a habit I’ve had since childhood and one I picked up from my dad when he worked at home. Just let me know if it is bothering you because I honestly don’t even hear myself do it anymore. I promise not to be offended, at least not most of the time.” Your sharing not only lets others know you are aware that something you do mindlessly could bug them, it also tells them why you do it and gives them permission to ask you to tone it down if it is becoming obnoxious to them.

Have a dialogue about pet peeves with people who work or live close to you in different settings. Go around the room or table and let everyone share one pet peeve that bothers them in the office or home or team. Go around the room till everyone has three opportunities. Sometimes we have no idea that something we do or don’t do drives another crazy. At times, it requires just a simple adjustment. Religious sisters get transferred often from one assignment to another. In each community, we begin to live with different sisters who like things done a certain way. “My mom always told me to…. That’s why I…” Well, my mom didn’t really care that much about the item that is Sister’s pet peeve. I have to admit, however, that most of these things are small and I can adjust the way I do many little things in order to not bother the others as much as possible. The benefit for me is that I take on new habits that are actually really helpful. The pet peeves become my teachers!

Engage in anti-pet peeves. “An anti-pet peeve is the opposite of a pet peeve: a tiny thing in life that brings you an exponential amount of joy.”  This site provides themed collections of anti-pet peeves. Readers contribute activities that bring them great joy, so much joy that they make sure they enjoy them every chance they get. For example, one reader described how he loved bringing a cup of coffee to his wife first thing on Saturday morning and seeing her react as if it were Christmas morning. Every time. Another loved watching her dog on her back while she was on video calls.

Focus on what you love not what you hate. My dad loves thunderstorms. Nothing makes him more happy than to sit in a room and watch out the window as a thunderstorm rolls in. My mom hates thunderstorms. Dad shared with me one evening how he and mom were at a Bed and Breakfast in the mountains. They went to bed for the night and a thunderstorm broke out in the sky overhead. He, being nearest the window, was delighted as he watched the lightening and heard the thunder roll across the sky. In a few moments, mom got up and closed the blinds. He just rolled over and went to sleep. That story will remain in my heart forever. Dad’s love for mom far surpassed his frustration at not being able to watch thunderstorms. He loved her too much to fuss over something so small. I’m sure he sneaked out and watched storms when he could be alone. But he respected her fears and her wishes when they were together. Again and again my siblings and I hear our father say, “I love your mom so much!” The pet peeves couldn’t embitter a heart so full of love to the point that he made a big deal about insisting on what he wanted. Being in a good relationship was more important to him than indulging his desire to relish in thunderstorms.

Respect where another person is at. A pet peeve that bothers us about another person may actually just be a temporary stage of growth. Maybe at this point in the other person’s life they need to know they are important, valuable, smart, popular. Sometimes we just need to let another person alone as they grow through things. We can embody behaviors that correspond to our values, and these might have an influence on the other person as they notice there is another way to act. But just as you will only kill a seedling if you force the seed open to hasten its growth, stuffing another person into your own mold only leads to frustration and hurt.

Don’t waste your time with stupid stuff. Everyone has pet peeves, just as everyone has weaknesses. Be the person who has the wisdom to distinguish between what is worth fighting for and what isn’t. What’s important and what can pass. What’s serious and what is not. Be the wisdom figure who can think things through instead of blowing up. Who can work on themselves to be great-hearted rather than being petulant and demanding. The more we feed our pet peeves the stronger they will become and the more they will affect our relationships.

Learn to accept the fact that we are all imperfect Someone has the habit of putting wet dishes on top of the dry dishes in the kitchen. It doesn’t bother them, but it certainly bothers you because you have to put them away. You may be trying to finish a project and the rest of the team is behind you chatting about their plans for the weekend. A customer loses their temper and causes the scene, demanding to speak with your manager. There are so many things that can annoy us and drive us up the wall. Before pet peeves begin to take control and people become disgruntled, simply ask yourself if a situation is worth getting upset over. The question itself can give you a change of perspective. Some things are big and need to be addressed, but most things are small. We are all imperfect, and learning to accept this can go a long way toward being able to work together with charity.

When clashes and resentments break out between people over pet peeves forgiveness is a necessary path to healing. Next we’ll be presenting a prayerful exercise for forgiveness.

One thought on “Pin Pricks and Pet Peeves

  1. Thank You Sr. Kathryn James Hermes!

    It seems that I read your article at just the right time as my wife seemed far off. I communicated with her about how I might be annoying her and making her feel some frustration with me. I asked her to let my know of those things so that I can change for the better for her. She said that she would and then she smiled.

    I will continue to pray for us all. Thanks Again!


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