Quirks Part 2

     I’d hoped to stir up a little mud with yesterday’s piece, but it seems ‘twas not to be. Ah, well. My evening provided additional fodder: an object lesson in the importance of being wary around people who don’t know about your quirks.

     Among the topics that I’m personally sensitive about is the Christian faith. (“No, really, Fran?” “Shut up, you.”) Today, Christians worldwide are under attack from a variety of enemies. It’s mandatory that men of good will defend them – and I mean all men of good will, regardless of their personal creeds or lack thereof.

     In his book Persecution, David Limbaugh makes a strong case that the political Left has targeted Christianity for expulsion from American public life. The reasons for this “should” be “obvious,” wherefor I’ll spare you a disquisition on the subject. Suffice it to say that as the years have passed, I’ve become ever more ready to take up cudgels with anyone who attacks or derides Christianity.

     But that particular quirk of mine isn’t something a new acquaintance is likely to know about. It’s a bit like Mr. Lambert’s reaction to the word “mattress:” it makes its appearance only upon the presentation of the proper stimulus. Last night, that stimulus was presented by an unwitting, relatively new acquaintance. While I’ll spare you the details, my reaction put a screeching halt to what had been a lively conversation. It may have aborted a budding friendship.

     Quirks can exact a price.


     I’ve been using the term quirk to comprise a variety of sensitivities and eccentricities. I have no better word for the purpose. Anyway, it has the right sort of sound: quick, hard-edged, even vaguely threatening. He who has some – and really, don’t we all? – must be aware of them, and ready to pay the price they demand. There’s no guarantee that that price will have an upper bound.

     Quirk-sensitivity conflicts directly with another American trait: our aversion to confrontation. There are a number of prominent commentators and advisors who believe that confrontation is always to be avoided. The one I have in mind just now is the justly celebrated Dale Carnegie:

     Shortly after the close of World War I, I learned an invaluable lesson one night in London. I was manager at the time for Sir Ross Smith. During the war, Sir Ross had been the Australian ace out in Palestine; and shortly after peace was declared, he astonished the world by flying halfway around it in thirty days. No such feat had ever been attempted before. It created a tremendous sensation. The Australian government awarded him fifty thousand dollars; the King of England knighted him; and, for a while, he was the most talked about man under the Union Jack. I was attending a banquet one night given in Sir Ross’s honor; and during the dinner, the man sitting next to me told a humorous story which hinged on the quotation “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
     The raconteur mentioned that the quotation was from the Bible. He was wrong. I knew that, I knew it positively. There couldn’t be the slightest doubt about it. And so, to get a feeling of importance and display my superiority, I appointed myself as an unsolicited and unwelcome committee of one to correct him. He stuck to his guns. What? From Shakespeare? Impossible! Absurd! That quotation was from the Bible. And he knew it.
     The storyteller was sitting on my right; and Frank Gammond, an old friend of mine, was seated at my left. Mr. Gammond had devoted years to the study of Shakespeare, So the storyteller and I agreed to submit the question to Mr. Gammond. Mr. Gammond listened, kicked me under the table, and then said: “Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible.”
     On our way home that night, I said to Mr. Gammond: “Frank, you knew that quotation was from Shakespeare.”
     “Yes, of course,” he replied, “Hamlet, Act Five, Scene Two. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle.” The man who said that taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. I not only had made the storyteller uncomfortable, but had put my friend in an embarrassing situation. How much better it would have been had I not become argumentative.

     A tendency to correct others is an expensive quirk. It can cost more than anyone would want to pay…but it’s commonplace among the intelligent and erudite. I’ve had to unlearn it myself. But there are sensitivities that can exact a high price, yet are worth paying for. It’s a matter of individual judgment whether to retain or renounce such a quirk.

     When you’re among others who know relatively little about you, are you willing to let fly when your sensitivity is triggered? There might be hard feelings. There might be conflict, whether brief or enduring. Could you alert those others to your quirk without such consequences? Should you? Will those others allow you to do so? You must make such decisions for yourself, and on the spot. It cannot be otherwise, for your priorities are yours alone, and no two occasions are the same.


     The word currently floating through my head is temperance:

     Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. This includes restraint from retaliation in the form of non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance in the form of humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as splurging now in the form of prudence, and restraint from excessive anger or craving for something in the form of calmness and self-control.

     Temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues. It’s most often interpreted as the antithesis of gluttony, but it extends to the avoidance of immoderate conduct of any kind. Yet temperance isn’t an unconditional virtue. There are things worth defending at the price of hurt feelings, lasting antipathy, even physical combat.

     Others who don’t share your convictions about such things are unlikely to seek your company. They may disparage you to others. They may even look for ways to hurt you. It’s up to you to decide whether their quirks should take precedence over yours. And that decision is yours alone as well.