Why some things bug me and others don’t

It’s interesting how sometimes being exposed to something for years on end can desensitise you so that you become more tolerant of it than most people. And sometimes it seems to have the exact opposite effect and leave you with an irrational aversion to whatever it is.

I was thinking about this earlier because I realised I was far more bothered than I should be by the fact that one of my car doors is stuck shut. It shouldn’t be a big deal… the car still works fine, and most days I don’t even have any need to open that door. Sure, it’ll be a pain if I go on a trip away with several people, but there’s plenty of time to get it fixed before that next happens. Yet as soon as I discovered the problem I felt agitated. I couldn’t rest until I’d tried to fix it myself (no luck; perhaps ironically, there seems to be no easy way to get the door apart to get at the lock components without opening it, which is exactly what I can’t do!), then when that failed, booked it into a garage.

But I realised I’m always like this when something breaks, even if it’s only minor breakage. Whenever it happens I just have to fix it, arrange to get it fixed, or replace it with a new one as soon as humanly possible, or else it won’t stop bugging me. I think this is because when I was growing up we often had things that weren’t working (or weren’t working properly) for weeks or months at a time. Partly due to not having enough money to get them fixed, partly due to no-one being as bothered about them as I am now. Usually it wasn’t anything all that serious – stereos with only one speaker working, cookers with a ring that you couldn’t use because it would trip all the circuit breakers, cars that basically worked but would overheat if you were stuck in traffic for any length of time, toilet seats that weren’t actually attached to the toilet, that sort of thing – but once we were without a working fridge for several weeks, and that wasn’t fun.

So now, I just can’t be doing with those things anymore, even the ones that should only be minor annoyances. It’s like all my tolerance for them has already been used up and I’ve got no patience left.

But it interests me that with certain other things, it went the opposite way entirely.

Smoking, for example. Now I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life and I’ve got no intention of letting that change, but I’m not that bothered if other people want to. A lot of non-smokers seem to recoil in horror* at the thought of being in a room where someone’s smoking or the idea of (gasp!) living with a smoker, but I just don’t really care at all, probably because I’m so used to it, my dad having smoked the whole time I was growing up. So in this case I did develop a tolerance rather than using up all my capacity for tolerance. I wonder what the difference is.

(* I’m not saying people are wrong to recoil in horror… given that passive smoking isn’t exactly good for you, I do think they’re within their rights to object to people smoking around them. It’s just that I happen not to object to it myself, and I find it sort of interesting that I don’t).

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