How to stop being annoying

Who we annoy, and how we annoy them, can be managed, but why we annoy is sometimes still a mystery.

Fred Allen, the famous radio comedian, once said “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”

After 60 years of taking walks, both long and short, on this planet, I think I have a vague idea of how not to be annoying to others. I have learned this mostly by finding out that I HAVE been annoying, and then modifying my behavior to eliminate, or at least minimize, the things I say and do that others find annoying. If someone is annoyed by my thoughts, however, that is entirely their problem and I don’t have to try to change my opinions – I’ve learned THAT after 60 years, as well.

One thing that I know is VERY annoying is giving advice. Annoying sentences often begin with “If I were you …” or “I may be wrong, but …”, and that old standby “I have always found that …”

Of course, when you’re truly stymied and don’t know what to do, and go to the trouble of asking someone what they would do under such-and-such circumstances, it is also equally annoying to have them reply “Well, what do you think you ought to do?” If I KNEW that, buddy, I would not be wasting my time and yours by asking!

One thing that does not annoy people, at least not anymore, are Zen sayings — the kind of mottos and ambiguous advice that people hang as plaques behind their bonsai tree. Zen philosophy used to be extremely annoying to many people, because, by its very nature, it was meant to be contradictory and incomprehensible. Those raised by rational parents to behave and think rationally tended to consider Zen as nothing more than annoying gobbledy-gook. But today’s generation is immersed in contradictions and irrationality. So Zen sayings, while still mostly meaningless to the masses, are appreciated and not viewed as annoying. That being the case, I feel confident I can offer the following Zen pointers about avoiding annoying others without the least fear of being annoying myself.

  • No flake of dandruff ever falls in the wrong place.

  • Water which is too pure will discourage fish.

  • The smaller you become, the larger you will live.

  • A jar which holds nothing is already full.

  • If you fear what people think, you will think what people fear.

  • A black candle gives off as much light as a white candle.

  • The snare exists because of its prey and the word exists because of its meaning.

  • Clocks and watches are useless, because it is always now.

  • Never talk, unless it improves the silence.

  • Water and words are easy to pour but impossible to recover.

  • Can a closed mind go through an open door?

  • What is dust to one is a world to another.

  • Accept nothing, love everything.

  • The moon borrows light from the sun but never returns it.

  • Your mind is an ocean and you make the waves.

  • A donkey carrying sacks of gold is still a donkey.

And finally, from the French author Francois de la Rouchefoucauld: “We often pardon those that annoy us, but we cannot pardon those we annoy.”

Tim Torkildson

Tim lives in Provo, Utah. He dreams constantly about going back to live and teach in Thailand, where he lived for 5 years. He has put his dream into prose form here: