How many buttons do you have? You know, the, “that really pushes my buttons” buttons? Think you don’t have many? You probably live alone. There’s just something about seeing people at any and all times of the day – moments after you wake up or at the end of a really long day – that put you at major risk of button pushing. It could be something legitimately annoying, or just something that reminds you of something else that bothered you in the past.
Having lived with a variety of family members and roommates in a variety of living situations I’ve learned a thing or two about buttons. I’ve learned that everyone has them. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how considerate you are, eventually you’ll push them. I’ve learned that jokes will be taken entirely wrong. And I’ve learned that you get to choose how many buttons you keep activated and ready to deploy bombs all around you.
I’ve learned that frustration and annoyance are a choice that you can make or not. It’s almost always related to how you perceive the motivation even more than the actions of the other person. Silly things become deal breakers when you assume they were done on purpose with the knowledge that it annoys you. All of a sudden there’s an all out war over whether the toilet paper should be pulled from the top or bottom.
It’s silly, but it’s what happens.
So, with the idea that I don’t see living in seclusion and isolation happening anytime in the near future, I’ve been contemplating a new way of living: being buttonless.
A few weeks ago I had an odd encounter at an appointment that left me wondering about this very thing.
I was checking in for my appointment at the counter, and a middle aged man who I had never seen before was standing on the outside of the counter on the opposite end of the office. He was dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, and looked like he was waiting for someone… Until he said, “What’s your name?” I looked up and said my first name, a little confused as to what was happening. Then he asked me, while leaning over the counter, “who are you here to see?”
At this point I was feeling a little uncomfortable with the situation, so very nicely I asked, “Do you work here?” To which he responded, “Fine, if you want to just stand there, then stand there.”
Um, ok. So I did. I waited until one of the other, professionally dressed employees, who I knew from the months I had been going there came around the corner and checked me in.
Here’s the thing, a few years ago, no even a few months ago, that kind of interaction would have totally messed me up, ruined my day, and would have probably made it so I would never want to go back there again. But this time it didn’t. I didn’t like what happened, it was uncomfortable, but it didn’t take my peace. And after thinking about it I realized why.
Part of my journey in life has been learning how to sort through people’s reactions. I’ve learned that people react not necessarily based on what just happened, but more often based off of what that circumstance reminded them of, what pre-existing button just got pushed. My question, though given the information I had was a fair one, touched some insecurity in him and he chose to react defensively. His reaction caught me a little off guard, but much to my pleasant surprise, the button that it tried to push in me had its plug pulled recently.
In the past, realizing that I had so unintentionally offended someone, that they were mad at me and speaking harshly to me would have sent me reeling. His reaction was unfair, unprofessional and rude. But I’m learning who I am. The security that an easily agitated man I’ve never met and probably will never see again need have little to no lasting impact on my life is liberating. That was his “ish”, not mine. That peace gave me the ability to see his insecurity as the source of the outburst, not anything that I did wrong or could control. So before I left I apologized for the misunderstanding (not that I had to, but I could), I walked away, sad that it happened, but not shaken like I could have been.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could live buttonless? If all of those hurts and insecurities found peace and healing, that we could walk through life unoffended and offending less? I think this is possible, at least to a large extent. Not easy, but possible.
What I’ve been noticing more and more is that my annoyances and frustrations are indications less of someone else behaving poorly and more that my love for them has shut off. I stop seeing them as someone who deserves my protection and care and instead interact with them as someone who’s intention is against me, not for me. Thoughts of them being inconsiderate stir, suddenly I’m wondering how anyone with a brain could possibly think behaving in that way is appropriate. It’s a slippery slope – one that love will keep us from going down.
The Bible says that “love covers a multitude of sins.” This implies not that where love is that sin is absent, on the contrary, where love is sin is very much present… As it is everywhere. Love doesn’t stop sin from happening, it stops it from wreaking havoc on our relationships. Love deactivates our buttons.
I want to be buttonless. I want to love well. I’m not there yet, but I feel like every button deactivated by love is a victory to be celebrated.