"I hate people who use the automatic door opener when they don't need to," my co-worker Sara said recently.
I always use the automatic door opener! I used to struggle to open the heavy doors to the library where I work. Then they were replaced with automatic doors. Now I just punch a button and -- voila! -- they spring open! I can stroll right in. How cool is that?
Little did I realize that something I thought of as harmless and pleasant could so annoy someone else.
"What's wrong with punching the button?" I asked Sara.
"You're not supposed to use the automatic door opener unless you're sick or handicapped!"
"Says who? Show me the sign saying that the punch button is limited to that use. Who am I hurting by using it?"
She'd been so certain that an able-bodied person using the automatic doors was an outrage that she had to think for a moment. "It wastes electricity?" she finally suggested.
"How much electricity can it possibly take to open a door?'" I scoffed.
I pride myself on my a tiny carbon footprint. I walk to work. I don't eat meat. I recycle. I'm guessing the planet will survive if I continue to punch that button. And I intend to. Even though I now know that each time I do, it makes Sara wince.
Our conversation did make me wonder what other seemingly innocuous things I do that annoy other people. The moment I began to pay attention, I learned of several. I overheard a library patron ranting to a friend about women who come to work with wet hair. (She herself was impeccably coiffed.) "How can a woman expect to be taken seriously in a workplace if she turns up for work with wet hair?" she griped. "It just isn't professional!"
I work with wet hair all the time. I often swim before work and rarely bother with a hair dryer. My short straight hair dries quickly. It never once occurred to me that anyone might find my damp head offensive.
Another apparently egregious thing I do is create half bananas. If I don't feel like eating an entire banana, I'll cut off half, leaving the uneaten half attached to the original bunch. My sister happens to do this too, so I've always felt comfortable helping myself to half a banana at her house. She recently confided that our habit of leaving half bananas around drives her hubby... bananas. Why? Who knows?
Neither of us plans to stop.
My co-worker Eileen recently told me that it really bothers her when people say "No problem" instead of "You're welcome." For her, the phrase is fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoying. So I resolved to stop saying "No Problem" when I'm working with her.
When I told her this, she thanked me.
I had to bite my tongue to stop from responding, "No problem!"
I'm sure there are other little things I routinely say or do that make my friends and co-workers want to strangle me. It would probably take a small miracle for any of us to get through a day without inadvertently annoying the hell out of somebody.
I'm just as touchy and oversensitive as anyone else. For one thing, I loathe the word "veggie." "Veggie" is a silly word, appropriate for use only by toddlers. A grown man or woman should be able to say the entire word -- "vegetable." But everyone uses "veggie!" Even the folks on NPR, who ought to know better. And every time they do, I want to slap them.
By now it should be obvious that we all go through life innocently provoking friends, family and co-workers -- and we don't even know we're doing it! How can we remedy this? Ask everyone to give us a list of our most annoying habits, then strive to accommodate them? Good luck with that. Ask each and every one of them to please lighten up and cut each other some slack? You can try. But you'll find that at least one of them finds nothing on God's green earth more annoying than being told to lighten up.
(This essay first appeared on Womens Voices For Change.)