If my friend had invited Mrs. Smith to supper and served baked beans for the sake of relaxing out of the tension of her resistance to the sugar, then she could have conquered that resistance. But to try to conquer an annoyance like that without knowing how to yield in some way would be, so far as I know, an impossibility. Of course, we would prefer that our friends should not have any disagreeable, ill-bred, personal ways, but we can go through the world without resisting them, and there is no chance of helping any one out of them through our own resistances.
On the other hand a way may open by which the woman’s attention is called to the very unhealthy habit of rocking—or eating sugar on beans—if we are ready, without resistance, to point it out to her. And if no way opens we have at least put ourselves out of bondage to her. The second way in which other people get on our nerves is more serious and more difficult. Mrs. So-and-so may be doing very wrong—really very wrong; or some one who is nearly related to us may be doing very wrong—and it may be our most earnest and sincere desire to set him right. In such cases the strain is more intense because we really have right on our side, in our opinion, if not in our attitude toward the other person. Then, to recognize that if some one else chooses to do wrong it is none of our business is one of the most difficult things to do—for a woman, especially.
It is more difficult to recognize practically that, in so far as it may be our business, we can best put ourselves in a position to enable the other person to see his own mistake by dropping all personal resistance to it and all personal strain about it. Even a mother with her son can help him to be a man much more truly if she stops worrying about and resisting his unmanliness.
“But,” I hear some one say, “that all seems like such cold indifference.” Not at all—not at all. Such freedom from strain can be found only through a more actively affectionate interest in others. The more we truly love another, the more thoroughly we respect that other’s individuality.
The other so-called love is only love of possession and love of having our own way. It is not really love at all; it is sugar-coated tyranny. And when one sugar-coated tyrant’ antagonizes herself against another sugar-coated tyrant the strain is severe indeed, and nothing good is ever accomplished.
The Roman infantry fought with a fixed amount of space about each soldier, and found that the greater freedom of individual activity enabled them to fight better and to conquer their foes. This symbolizes happily the process of getting people off our nerves. Let us give each one a wide margin and thus preserve a good margin for ourselves.
We rub up against other people’s nerves by getting too near to them—not too near to their real selves, but too near, so to speak, to their nervous systems. There have been quarrels between good people just because one phase of nervous irritability roused another. Let things in other people go until you have entirely dropped your strain about them—then it will be clear enough what to do and what to say, or what not to do and what not to say. People in the world cannot get on our nerves unless we allow them to do so.