Being neurotic

I posted some time ago about “entitlement”:

In my previous post (on “being manipulative”) the two senses of entitlement are at war with one another. But entitlement (or rather, the sense of entitlement) need not even be misplaced to muddy the waters. As a not particularly attractive example, I will consider my own aversion to noise: it’s the grumpy old man within trying to get out (was it Cyril Connolly who coined the aphorism: ‘Inside every fat man there is a thin one struggling to get out’? I will not check the internet for it). There is the actual annoyance, which is real; for example, mobile phones on trains; the conversation need not even be interminable or loud, soon enough there will be another, and it sucks the attention away from a book or contemplation of the view outside the window. But added to that is the thought the person creating the noise is being thoughtless or inconsiderate, possibly amplified by reflections on the triviality and pointlessness of the conversation — it would be understandable if it were of any moment, dammit! — in other words, that I am entitled to be annoyed; and even less attractively, that my thoughts are more interesting than my neighbour’s; but there is nothing I can do, because after all, that’s just what I think (though I am sure I am not alone in remembering a time when trains were calmer spaces). The desire one has for something may be perfectly legitimate (it stands on its merits, or may be balanced against the countervailing desires of others, if it seems worth the trouble of going into it) but nothing useful is added by the sense of entitlement, which indeed may cause greater discomfort than whatever the thing was that provoked it. This is particularly clear with (ahem!) the trivial example I have given, but the same applies just as much when the stakes are far higher. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of proportion, but it’s much harder to meet in the middle if you don’t. The sense of entitlement is like the shadow cast by the matter in question, which if the sun is low in the sky, may dwarf it. I could give examples from my marriage, but that would be indecorous. In the end, entitlement is not just what you can work your way up into feeling it is, but must be negotiated; most commonly, we do so by letting things go. That is not always possible, and that grumpy old man will give himself an ulcer, if he doesn’t learn to save his energy for when it really matters.


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