• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Tanya Sweeney: A tiny break in stride is nothing to lose the bap over

Jan 2, 2021

Have you noticed in your everyday life that people seem a little more hot-headed than usual? Ive heard the irritated squeal of tyre on tarmac as a driver revs off in a fit of pique over having to wait or yield a few seconds more than they might like. On footpaths, people seem to get irritated at the slightest interruption to their own personal rhythm. Theres a strange vibe on public transport, where tightly-wound people appear as though they might erupt at the slightest provocation. Ive witnessed verbal disputes in the street. . . over what, who knows? At a point in time where we are constantly encouraged on social media to be kind and cherish the bigger picture in life, the small things in life are really getting under our skin.
Im certainly not without sin myself on this front. Teeing up an interview with an Irish celebrity recently, I was asked to stand by for a text message on a certain day, which would let me know at what point they might be free to talk. A couple of weeks out from Christmas and with a deadline looming, I wasnt in a position to wait around all day for a text as though waiting for the van from Ikea to arrive (Your delivery will be here any time from 7am to 9pm!) and so I attempted to pin the person down to at least a vague time.
The person rang back immediately and, most unlike their bubbly on-screen persona, chewed me out for a good 10 minutes, giving Tom Cruises on-set rant a serious run for its money. Not exactly the best circumstances under which to start a soul-bearing interview. We got on with things, but I seethed about it for days afterwards, and surprised myself in doing so.
And yet, the short fuse keeps appearing. A person not wearing a mask properly on the Luas as my friend Emer calls it, nose-willying will send me right over the edge in ways I never thought fathomable. In a supermarket this week, I was navigating a wheelie basket and a toddler who, bored with her assignment to keep an eye out for bananas and bread (which I thought was genius at the time but dont mind me), was simmering with displeasure. I approached a mini-gridlock on one corner and theatrically rolled my eyes to heaven, probably in case everyone couldnt register my irritation behind my mask. Are you okay? a woman asked. Partly concerned, but mostly I felt the prong of confrontation. We werent always like this, were we? In any case, I decided to investigate.
It turns out that micro-rages were most definitely A Thing in the year 2020. The source for our frustration is obvious and probably needs no elaboration here. To say that we are clean out of emotional bandwidth and cant take on another moment of negativity is probably stating the obvious.
But why are some of us bringing that frustration into the public sphere and taking it out on perfect strangers? Because, when you think about it, what exactly is the point in that? What does it achieve, other than ruining someone elses day?
Firstly, we have been forced into re-evaluating our thoughts on public space. We are more aware of the immediate bubble of space around us at all times, in a way we probably havent been before. We are much more protective of it. When your body feels threatened or in danger of infection, as it invariably does in a pandemic, humans are wired to defend themselves and activate a fight-or-flight response.
We are also more aware of control, or rather our lack thereof, and this inevitably spills out into the smaller moments in the day.
But I wonder if the ruining of someone elses day is, subconsciously at least, part of the point. Misery loves company, after all. A small outburst is like the exquisite pain of picking a scab; even in the moment, you know this will not end well, but God it feels kind of good too. Perhaps we feel that if our frustration is in part offloaded on to another person we are unburdening ourselves in some way. Yet bad vibes dont diffuse and dissipate: they only multiply and intensify.
The other problem is that many of our usual coping mechanisms have been pulled out from under us. Id usually take my woebegone tales to the pub, tease them out with friends, and that would be the end of it.
Ultimately, we are all tired and depleted in ways we never thought we would be. Im not one for New Years resolutions, but maybe this year Ill break with tradition. Im going to resolve to keep perfect strangers out of the line of fire and remember that were all in this together. A break in the usual routine has felt terrible in many ways in 2020, but a tiny break in stride on the footpath or in a supermarket aisle, when you think about it, is nothing to lose the bap over.