Speaking Up for the Cranky

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My word of the day should probably be “serendipity.”

High school sports have drained my family’s summer of time I’d expected to have, but I have nonetheless been barreling forward with home projects that were on my list.  Meanwhile, being on the Tiverton Budget Committee, followed by a financial town referendum (FTR) legal battle, followed by a campaign for the local Charter Review Commission has extended the usual local political season.  Working from home, too, with no consistent weekdays during which all children are at school, all of this business has made me a bit, well, cranky.  And being deliberately self-aware, I feel badly about being disagreeable.

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So, I took it to heart when the Rhode Island Catholic re-ran Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin’s 2015 column, “On a Scale of 1 – 10, How Cranky Are You?“:

Unfortunately their crankiness isn’t self-contained; it’s an infectious disease that spreads quickly to others. A crank can spoil an important meeting, a relaxed cocktail party, a family reunion, or a simple trip to the store. Cranks are like weeds in a garden, a fly in the soup, or rain on the Fourth of July. They make a living ruining everything for everyone else.

You’ve heard it said that some people can light up a room just by walking into it? You probably know some people like that. It’s fun to be with them; you like having them around. Well, the opposite is also true – cranky people light up a room just by walking out! …

People who are always negative and critical, it seems to me, fail to recognize the presence and providence of God in their daily lives. It is, in the end, a failure of faith.

Bishop Tobin does encourage readers to be aware of their own crankiness, but in my current frame of mind, it seemed to me that it would have been more fruitful for him to write a column to cranky people — with us as the intended audience.

Although not a direct response to that desire of mine, it just so happened that today’s Wall Street Journal has an article by Elizabeth Bernstein reviewing a University of California, Berkley, program geared toward teaching people how to, as the headline puts it, “Find Compassion for Difficult People”:

Researchers say compassion has four components: You recognize another person’s suffering, are emotionally moved by it, wish the other person did not suffer and feel motivated to help relieve the suffering. Whether you actually help or not is up to you. It is enough to be willing to do so, the researchers say.

That article falls short in being secular and presenting the question as if it doesn’t matter whether the reader actually tries to help the cranky person.  It’s all about having one’s own mellow harshed by him or her.  The Catholic imperative would be to encourage you to see Christ in that person, laboring for conversion.

So, find a moment, when next you encounter a difficult, cranky person (which you may feel yourself to be doing as you read this) to understand that something is underlying his or her mood, and it may be something that he or she is striving to find and resolve.

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