What Makes People Tick?

I’m endlessly fascinated by human beings.  I took a lot of psychology classes in college, and even thought about making that my major, but I had a desire to earn a paycheck and – at that time – no desire to continue past my BA. I had to work full-time so I could try to finish getting my ex-husband through school.  It took him more years than we were married.  He did major in psychology, and now works for a computer systems firm. Go figure.

One of the benefits of having taken a lot of psych classes is that I tend to look at the reasons behind behavior before I comment on it.  Granted, like any other flawed human, I sometimes allow the words to leap out before I fully think things through, but I strive to engage my brain before my mouth as often as I can.

I mention all of this because I’ve had a week of dealing with people I’ve found to be quite frustrating. I’ve had to bite my tongue – literally and figuratively – on several occasions, and it has caused me to reflect on what I learned in all those classes way back when.  I have to remind myself that, for the most part at least, these people are just doing the best that they can in the moment.  I have to try to remember that I don’t know what is happening, typically, in their lives outside of the circumstances in which I encounter them.  It has been a good reminder for me, not just from an interpersonal communication stand point, but from a writing one as well. But I’ll get back to that later. Example number one:

I’ve been redecorating my dining room to accommodate a new dining set.  Okay, it’s not really “new” as in, I didn’t go out and buy it.  It’s a set that belonged to my father when he was still married to my mother.  They bought it after I had already moved out of the house, so I didn’t have any particular sentimental value for it except that my dad asked if I wanted it about a year before he passed away.  I was pretty neutral about the whole thing.  Then after he passed, his wife made it clear that everything belonged to her and she would decide who got what.  This dining set had been in a storage shed at the home of a family friend.  He called asking if I wanted it and I jumped. It was delivered this fall. 

Here’s the frustrating part – I ordered wallpaper to redecorate my dining room.  I had measured the room, and the woman at the store told me how much I needed.  I spent close to $350 on wallpaper.  After finishing the project, I discovered I had two full rolls left over – worth over $80! I took the rolls to the store where I ordered them and asked if I could get a refund.  The young girl behind the counter acted as if I’d asked her to cut out her spleen and hand it to me.

“You need a receipt,” she said after clicking her tongue on the roof of her mouth and rolling her eyes.

I produced the receipt.

“That’s not the right receipt,” she said.

I pointed to the itemized list of things I’d purchased there, and showed here where the wallpaper was listed.

Then the phone rang, and she proceeded to ignore me for about five minutes while she helped the customer on the phone. I was getting a bit perturbed by this point. The girl came back, punched something into the computer, and then let let out an exasperated growl when the computer beeped.  She repeated this process two more times, then finally said, “I don’t know how to do this.  You need to come back when the manager is here.”

“When’s that?” I asked.

“Tomorrow morning at 10.”

I haven’t made it back yet.  I plan to go tomorrow, after I’m done judging a speech competition at an insurance professionals’ conference.

Example number two:

My sister-in-law is a pack rat of the highest order.  She has enough furniture to fully furnish three sizable houses.  She is also on the verge of bankruptcy and foreclosure.  She happens to live with my 84-year-old mother-in-law, and owns that house as well as one other house, and a condominium.  Until December she was a self-employed photographer.  Now she’s working at a car dealership.

My mother-in-law was lamenting to me on the phone earlier in the week that she didn’t have enough money to buy groceries because she had given her Social Security check to my sister-in-law to help with the house payment.  My sister-in-law was given the home where she and my husband grew up as her “inheritance” several years ago.  It was paid off at the time.  She now owes more than the home would sell for given the market these days.

“Why doesn’t she just sell some of the furniture that she’s got stored all over the place,” I asked.  Apparently my naivete was showing. 

“She could never get what it’s worth. She’ d have to sell it at yard sale prices.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “But then it would empty your garage, and she wouldn’t be paying the money for two storage units.”

“But she has some really nice things, and she wouldn’t get anywhere close to their value.”

I’m confused at this point. “Well, yes,” I said again. “But she wouldn’t be going deeper into debt because of storage unit fees.  Isn’t making $25 better than spending $30 when you’re about to be foreclosed on?”

It could have gone on for hours this way, but fortunately the carpet installer showed up and I had to get off the phone.

Example number three:

I’ve previously mentioned the local writer who despises me, and sometimes writes about me on her blog.  She apparently reads my blogs more often than she admits, because she keeps commenting on them in hers. Here the frustration is trying to understand why she has to criticize everything that I am involved with or that I do.  Case in point – her MySpace page makes reference to “not having fancy letters” after her name, and that she doesn’t need a degree because she’s too busy “writing.”

Her most recent blog is a clear stab at my blog “Things Your English Teacher Never Taught You” wherein she says that good grammar and perfect sentences aren’t necessary to be a good writer. Her words, not mine. She has also tried to show that ICL is a scam. Gosh – maybe  mention that to James Cross Giblin, Elaine Marie Alphin, or Lois Lowry as they have all been instructors at some point.  Many of our students have gone on to write award-winning books as well. 

I get a little defensive about things that are meaningful to me, which makes me further question the motivation behind the jabs.

The fact is, I’m a pretty easy-going person.  It takes a lot to get me upset, but once I’m there, it takes a lot to calm me down again.  I’m a flawed human.  But as I try to better understand what makes others tick, I’m hoping I’ll learn more about myself. Then – perhaps – I’ll be less easily frustrated.

She has attacked – and I don’t use that word lightly – everything from my hair color to my religious beliefs.

What makes it all so interesting is that she on two occasions has tried to be my friend, even attending a party at my house once.

I’m trying to remember all those things I said before, trying to understand what motivates this much anger to be directed at me.  One friend told me she thinks it’s jealousy, but that somehow doesn’t ring true.  I guess I should be flattered by all the attention.  She refers to me as her “stalker” which I find endlessly amusing. My husband wonders why I bother to read her blog at all.  I guess it’s like driving past a car wreck: you don’t want to look, but you can’t help yourself.

I’m certain this is going to provoke a response, but I truly do just want to understand what motivates this lashing out.


2 thoughts on “What Makes People Tick?

  1. drtombibey says:

    Ms Kim,

    I too share the same fascination. After all these years, I still see people do things I can’t believe.

    Dr. B

  2. okathleen says:

    Intriguing, as we say in the North of England:

    ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk!’


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