Opinion: Hot buttons


We are not our brother’s keeper. We are not responsible for the actions, or reactions, of others. At least, that’s been the accepted standard in most interpersonal communication. Sure, we come to understand very early in life that certain behaviors are prone to get certain responses. We complain to Mom of our hunger, and we might get a grilled-cheese sandwich. We take a toy from our older sibling, and we are likely to be greeted with a knuckle sandwich.

So, we come to invest deeply in understanding the peccadillos of those around us. Thomas does not like to be called Tom. And talking football with Sue will invariably lead to an argument – she seems to like the debate more than the game. To get along and build social cohesion, we adjust to these unspoken variations. Most often, we learn that adaptation is more efficient than absolute egalitarianism. Sure, we want to treat everybody the same, but it is so dang hard to do.

OK, what is our affirmative requirement to accommodate others? Do we have to predict what might be their hidden hot button? Is it ever appropriate to believe that we get a pass because a perceived slight was unintended? Didn’t even occur to us? In living our lives outside of myriad potential landmines when interacting interpersonally, if we simply try to treat people the same and respectfully, do they have the right to criticize us as insensitive? Are we saying that they don’t matter enough to cross our mind, or are we innocently expecting them to assert their own needs rather than trying to predict them? Maybe it depends on how close we are to the person. Should we be expected to know the barista as well as our children? Should they demand it from us?