I answer: “Why should she be annoyed? Will her annoyance stop Mrs. Smith’s eating sugar on baked beans? Will she in any way—selfish or otherwise—be the gainer for her annoyance? Furthermore, if it were the custom to eat sugar on baked beans, as it is the custom to put sugar in coffee, this woman would not have been annoyed at all. It was simply the fact of seeing Mrs. Smith digress from the ordinary course of life that annoyed her.”
It is the same thing that makes a horse shy. The horse does not say to himself, “There is a large carriage, moving with no horse to pull it, with nothing to push it, with—so far as I can see—no motive power at all. How weird that is! How frightful!”—and, with a quickly beating heart, jump aside and caper in scared excitement. A horse when he first sees an automobile gets an impression on his brain which is entirely out of his ordinary course of impressions—it is as if some one suddenly and unexpectedly struck him, and he shies and jumps. The horse is annoyed, but he does not know what it is that annoys him. Now, when a horse shies you drive him away from the automobile and quiet him down, and then, if you are a good trainer, you drive him back again right in front of that car or some other one, and you repeat the process until the automobile becomes an ordinary impression to him, and he is no longer afraid of it.
There is, however, just this difference between a woman and a horse: the woman has her own free will behind her annoyance, and a horse has not. If my friend had asked Mrs. Smith to supper twice a week, and had served baked beans each time and herself passed her the sugar with careful courtesy, and if she had done it all deliberately for the sake of getting over her annoyance, she would probably have only increased it until the strain would have got on her nerves much more seriously than Mrs. Smith ever had. Not only that, but she would have found herself resisting other people’s peculiarities more than ever before; I have seen people in nervous prostration from causes no more serious than that, on the surface. It is the habit of resistance and resentment back of the surface annoyance which is the serious cause of many a woman’s attack of nerves.
Every woman is a slave to every other woman who annoys her. She is tied to each separate woman who has got on her nerves by a wire which is pulling, pulling the nervous force right out of her. And it is not the other woman’s fault—it is her own. The wire is pulling, whether or not we are seeing or thinking of the other woman, for, having once been annoyed by her, the contraction is right there in our brains. It is just so much deposited strain in our nervous systems which will stay there until we, of our own free wills, have yielded out of it.
The horse was not resenting nor resisting the automobile; therefore the strain of his fright was at once removed when the automobile became an ordinary impression. A woman, when she gets a new impression that she does not like, resents and resists it with her will, and she has got to get in behind that resistance and drop it with her will before she is a free woman.