“Every time you find yourself irritated with someone, the one you need to look at is yourself. The question is not, ‘What’s wrong with this person?’ but ‘What does this irritation tell me about myself?’” Anthony de Mello
Talk about an irritating quote. Just the thought that the problem is me is irritating!
I find it alarming that way too frequently my frustration or irritation with another personal is actually more about me than it is the other person. Why do I get so upset? Well, perhaps because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted. And of course, who knows better than I do when it comes to the best decisions and actions regarding my life and the lives of others? After all, my world is the only one that really matters. Right?
The Small Self
After devoting much of my time to deep self-reflection, one thing I have discovered is the dominance of what is called my Small Self—the ever so selfish Me that is most interested in getting my way and possessing what is good for me.
According to the spiritual tradition I am following these days, one must seek to “annihilate” this small self in order for the True Self to emerge and discover union with the Divine. Accomplishing this “annihilation” is a lifelong endeavor that always seems to lead to further discovery of even more selfishness and fear some kind of loss lingering in the broken soul.
It is Better to Serve Than to Be Served
Although the cycle appears frustrating (and it can be), I have also discovered deep personal pleasure from paying attention to the needs and feelings of others. It is one of those truths that is not “apparently obvious,” or perhaps it is even counter-intuitive. When I place my focus on the needs and wherewithal of another person, I am actually doing what is best for me as well.
In the theology of the Christ, “It is better to serve than to be served.” That is because we are designed to give and to serve, and in doing so we are most fulfilled. You know the feeling I am writing about.
When Theology Gets Practical
What in the world does all this theology have to do with “irritation.” Well… like everything. Irritation comes from my own neediness for power and prestige. I want what I my want and I want it now! With such a mindset I haven’t the capacity to accept challenge or dispute, I am only satisfied with agreement and recognition. It stems from that small and weak ego. The one that needs to be dismissed (or annihilated, of you will).
In keeping with the quote above, my irritation tells me a lot about myself—mostly about those things I don’t care to know—yet things I need to know to contribute to the value of my circle of acquaintances and the world at large. I must “own my irritation” and reflect on its source.