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our education does not give us business power. We believe in democracy and self-government, and our schools are autocracies. We are a religious people, and our schools are unreligious, repressing the spiritual element in education through fear of offending sectarian
prejudices. At Moraine Park we are trying to teach Americanism by developing the American type - not the English, French, German, or some other type. You can't develop a hunting dog by giving it the training suited to a poodle.'
THE FEELING OF IRRITATION
BY FRANCES LESTER WARNER
THE feeling of irritation in its earliest form once overtook a little girl whose mother had enforced a wholesome bit of discipline. In a great state of wrath, the little girl went to her room, got out a large sheet of paper, and ruled it heavily down the middle. Then she headed one column 'People I Like,' and crowded that half of the sheet with the names of all her acquaintance far and near. The other half of the page she headed 'People I Don't Like,' and in that column listed one word only 'Mamma.' This done, she locked the grim document in her safe-deposit box, and hid the key.
That glowering deed was the very ritual of irritation. The feeling of irritation is not merely one of heat: it is a tall wave of towering dislike that goes mounting up our blood. When we have it, it feels permanent. Our friend is not what we thought he was is not what it should be our job is a failure we have placed our affections in the wrong quarter. When young politicians give way to this feeling, they bolt the ticket; when young employees have it, they resign. The first time that young married people have it, they
think that love is dead. If they have too much wealth and leisure, they fly apart and eventually get a decree. But in households where the budget does not cover alimony, they commonly stay together and see for themselves how the wave of wrath goes down. The material inconveniences of resignations, abscondings, law-suits, and the like, have been a great safeguard in many a career. Nothing in Barrie's plays is more subtle than the perfect moment when the young couple decide to postpone separation until the laundry comes home.
It is not necessary to be a 'temperamental' person, or a fire-eater of any sort, in order to know how it feels to be irritated and irritating. The gentlest folk are capable of both sensations. Anyone who has seen a lovely lady deliberately stir up strife in the bosom of a genial story-teller, by correcting his facts for him and exposing his fictions, will remember the tones of restrained choler with which the merry tale progressed. Who has not remarked to a kind relative, 'Well, if you know so much about it, why don't you tell it yourself?'
For instance, suppose that we are at loggerheads with a fellow member of a public-welfare committee. He opposes a measure that we endorse. We instantly refer him to his class: he is a typical politician, a single-track mind, a combination of Mugwump and Boss Tweed. He represents the backwardlooking element. We ourselves, meanwhile, are a blend of Martin Luther and the prophet Isaiah, with tongs from the altar.
Or perhaps one is irritated with a colleague on a teaching staff, after the events of a varied day. Irrelevant matters have happened all the morning in amazing succession: an itinerant janitor filling inkwells; an inkwell turning turtle-blotters rushed to flood-sufferers; an electrician, with tall stepladder and scaling-irons, to repair the electric clock; a fire-drill in examination period; one too many revolutions of the pencil-sharpener; one too many patriotic 'drives,' involving the care of public moneys kept in a candy-box.
And now our zealous academic friend calls an unexpected committee meeting to tabulate the results of intelligencetests. We are in no mood for intelligence-tests. We object. He persists. We take umbrage. He still calls the meeting. Then, up rears the wave of dislike and irritation, not at the details that have brought us to our crusty state, not dislike of ink and elec
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tricity and patriotism and intelligence,
but dislike of our friend and of the Art of Teaching that he represents. The trouble with our friend, we decide, is his academic environment. He is over-educated, attenuated, a Brahmin. Nobody in touch with Real Life could be so thoroughly a mule and an opinionist. Better get out of this ultra-civilized atmosphere before our own beautiful catholicity of thought is crippled, cramped, like his. At these moments we do not stop to remember that people are also opinionated on the island of Yap.
Most frequently of all, we apply our dudgeon to the kind of community in which we live. We are nettled at a bit of criticism that has reached our ears. Instantly we say cutting things about the narrow ways of a small community, with page-references to Main Street and the Five Towns. We forget that our friends in great cities might be quite as chatty. Margot Asquith lives and thrives in crowds.
We refer our irritation, also, to types. Any skirmish in a women's organization is referred to women and their catty ways. Any Church or Red Cross breeze is an example of the captious temper of the godly. All friction between soldiers of different nations is a sign of Race Antagonism; the French are not what we had inferred from Lafayette.
In short, the whole history and literature of dissension show that people have always tried to make their irritations prove something about certain types, or situations, or races, or communities. Whereas the one thing that has been eternally proved is the fact that human beings are irritable.
If we accept that fact as a normal thing, we find ourselves ready for one more great truth. Violent irritation produced on small means is a deeply human thing, a delicately unbalanced
thing, something to reckon with, and something from which we eventually recover on certain ancient and wellrecognized lines. When our fury is at its height, we are ready to smash anything, throw away anything, burn all bridges. Nothing is too valuable to cast into the tall flame of our everlasting bonfire. This sounds exaggerated. 'Emotion recollected in tranquillity' is a pallid thing. But it is hot enough at the time. The whole round of sensation and emotion may be traveled in an hour, at a pace incredible a sort of round-trip survey of the soul.
The father of a large family sat in church at one end of a long pew. His wife sat at the other end of the pew, with a row of sons, daughters, and guests ranged in the space between. Near the close of the sermon one morning, the father glanced down the line, gazed for a horrified moment at his eldest daughter Kate, got out his pencil, wrote a few words on a scrap of paper, put the paper into his hat, and passed the hat down the line. As the hat went from hand to hand, each member of the family peered in, read the message, glanced at Kate, and began to shake as inconspicuously as is ever possible in an open pew. Kate, absorbed in the sermon, was startled by a nudge from her brother, who offered her the hat, with note enclosed. She looked in and read, "Tell Kate that her mouth is partly open.'
Kate remembered that it must have been. The whole pew was quivering with seven concentrated efforts at selfcontrol.
Now, one would think that a moment like this would be jolly even for the cause of laughter in others. But it was not. Kate knew that they had been laughing before the note reached her, and she was hurt. If they loved her as she loved them, they would not want to laugh. She set her jaw like iron and
gazed straight ahead. This started them all off again. With the instinct of a well-trained elder sister, she knew that, if she wanted any peace, she ought to turn and smile and nod cordially all down the row, as at a reception. But it was too late for that. She had taken the proud line, and she would follow it to the end.
As her expression grew more austere, the boys grew more convulsed. Aloof now, cut off from her kin entirely, she sat seething. Floods of scarlet anger drowned the sermon's end. The closing hymn was given out, but she declined the offered half of her brother's hymnal. "Tell Kate she can open it now,' telegraphed one of the boys as the congregation began to sing. Here was her chance to join the group and nod and smile again, but she was too far gone. She received the message with lifted eyebrows, and stood with cold pure profile averted until after the benediction. Then she turned away and walked off in a towering passion. Her anger was not at her father, whose note caused the stir. She had no resentment toward him at all. If one's mouth is open, one would wish to be advised of the fact. Her feeling was the mighty wrath of the person who has been laughed at before being told the joke.
When she reached home, the whole family gathered around her in a group. 'I think,' said one of the boys, 'that in the cause of friendship we owe Kate an apology.'
The grand manner of formal apology from one's relatives is the most disarming thing in the world. Friendly conversation flowed back into the normal at once. But it was years before it was quite safe for Kate to rest her chin on her hand in church.
Very often our most genuine irritations appear unreasonable to our friends. For instance, why should people object to being called by each
other's names? Children suffer from this continually: grown people tend to confuse brothers and call them by each other's names promiscuously. We may love our brother tenderly, and yet not like to be confounded with him. Even parents sometimes grow careless. The smallest boy in a lively family had a mother who did this. Absentmindedly she would call the roll of all the children's names before she hit upon the right one. Consequently, the smallest boy learned to respond to the names Alice, Christine, George, and Amos. But the thing had happened to him once too often. One morning he appeared at breakfast with a large square of cardboard pinned to his bosom; and on the placard in large letters was printed the word 'Henry.' Rather go through life with a tag around his neck than be called Alice any more.
I do not quite agree with the adage that it takes two to make a quarrel. If we are really on a rampage, the other person can be a perfect pacifist and still call down our ire. We can make the hotfoot excursion to the heights of madness when a friend with whom we are arguing whistles softly away to himself while we talk. Even worse is the person who sings a gay little aria after we are through. In the presence of such people, we feel like the college girl who became annoyed with her room-mate, and, reflecting prudently upon the inconveniences of open war, rushed out of the room and down the stairs, to relieve her feelings by slamming the front door. She tore open the great door with violent hands, braced it wide, and flung it together with all her might. But there was no crash. It was the kind of door that shuts with an air-valve, and it closed gradually, tranquilly, like velvet; a perfect lady of a door. People who sing and whistle and hum softly to themselves while we rage are like that door.
Knowing that human beings are irritable, that they can recover from their irritation, and that we also can recover from ours, why is it that we ever hold resentment long? Some people, like soapstones, hold their heat longer than others; but the mildest of us, even after we have quite cooled off, sometimes find ourselves warming up intermittently at the mere memory of the fray. We are like the old lady who said that she could forgive and forget, but she could n't help thinking about it. We love our friend as much as ever, but one or two things that he said to us stay in mind. This is because words spoken in the height of irritation are easily memorized. They have an epigrammatic swing, a vivacity, and a racy AngloSaxon flavor. Unless we are ready to discount them entirely, they come into our minds in our pleasantest moods, checking our impulses of affection, and stiffening our cordial ways.
On this account, the very proud and the very young sometimes let a passing rancor estrange a friend. When we are young, and fresh from much novel-reading, we are likely to think of love as a frail and perishable treasure-something like a rare vase, delicate and perfect as it stands. One crash destroys it forever. But love that involves the years is not a frail and finished crystal. It is a growing thing. It is not even a simple growing thing, like a tree. A really durable friendship is a varied, homelike country full of growing things. We cannot destroy it and throw it away. We can even have a crackling bonfire there without burning up the world. Fire is dangerous, but it is not final.
Of course, it is in our power to let a single conflagration spoil all our love, if we burn the field all over and sow it with salt, and refuse to go near it ever again. But after the fires have gone down on the waste tract, then the stars
wheel over and the quiet moon comes out — and forever afterward we have to skirt hastily around that territory in our thought. It is still there, the place that once was home.
Perhaps it is trifling and perverse to 'be harking back to nature and to childhood for parables. But sometimes there is reassurance in the simplest things. The real war-god in one family was a small boy named Gordon. Whenever his younger sister wanted a little peace, she used to take her dolls to the attic, saying to her mother as she went, 'K. G.' This meant, 'Keep Gordon.' But one time the sister was very ill. Gordon was afraid that she was going to die, and showered her with attentions of every kind. He even gathered flowers for her every day. The trained nurse was much impressed. One afternoon, when the crisis was past, the nurse told Gordon that she thought that he was very sweet indeed to his little sick sister. Gordon was squatting on the arm of the sofa, watching his sister with speculative eye. He considered this new light upon his character for a moment, and then remarked, 'Well, you just wait till she gets her strength.'
We live in cantankerous days. Anybody who has energy enough to try to
do anything particular in the world has more or less difficulty in getting on with people. Unless he chooses to take his dolls to the attic, he is in for occasional criticism, laughter, interruptions, and even the experience of being called by names that are not his own. The world sends flowers to the dying, but not to people when they get their strength. It is the very rare person who goes through a busy life with nothing to ruffle him at all.
In moments of irritation at all this, we are tempted to rule off the world into two columns, and in the columns to compile two lists of people: people who agree with us and people who do not; 'People I Like,' and 'People I Don't Like.' This, as we have seen before, is the simple ritual of irritation. Unconsciously we make the lists, and file them away. If we could lay hands on the ghostly files of twenty years and scan the blacklists through, we should find that we had, not a catalogue of permanent and bitter hatred, but a sort of Friendship Calendar. Perhaps we should not find our mothers very recently among the blackballed; but the chances are that, if our relatives and friends could see the lists, they would read with no small amazement certain of the fine old names that once were written there.