Friday, May 9, 2014

Disorders, Biology and Just Being Nice

On a local radio program, they were discussing a problem called "misophonia." In short, this is a "condition" that causes people to have "a very strong emotional reaction such as hate, anger,anxiety, rage, and resentment" when they hear certain sounds. It usually amounts to sounds made by other people: mouth noises while eating; that sort of thing.

I used to feel disproportionately angry when sitting across the table from my sister or father or mother in the mornings, when I was younger. Whatever noise they might have made made me extremely angry. The clicking of a spoon on the teeth; the slurping of a cup of coffee used to make me boil inside. So, I guess I "have" misophonia.

This radio show got me thinking about my usual stuff, including the idea that it seems to me that we give up too quickly when it comes to undesirable human tendencies, especially when they are a result of a "condition."

Sure, I get that people with Tourettes can't really be blamed for calling you a son of a fishmonger out of nowhere on the morning train, but, I think we search for excuses, sometimes, by labeling things as the result of a "condition."

Again, not always. Some things are beyond voluntary control, I know.

But, speaking of voluntary control, I know from my limited college-level psychology classes that the brain performs both voluntary and involuntary functions. I also know the voluntary part is pretty strong.

I think we send too many messages about the inevitability and the mind. My son recently came to me (he's twelve now) and said, "Dad -- did you know that in a couple of years I am going to start acting differently and that I am going to be really mean to you?"

He got this from a health class in a discussion about puberty and hormones.

"You will change, for sure," I said. "But how you treat me is up to you, it's not up to the 'changes' you will go through. It may not be easy sometimes, but can control what you do, in the end."

Should I have to fight this fight? His teachers are handing him a "get out of jail free" card, whether they delivered the message wrong or whether he misinterpreted, that is what is happening.

On the radio show, a torrent of callers were talking about their "misophonia" and they all were using it as an excuse to treat other people poorly. "I just can't help it..." or "I make my husband eat in the other room..."

Whatever happened to dealing with it -- to recognizing an unfair reaction and controlling one's own actions? Whatever happened to reason over emotion? If, after a discussion ("Look, dear, you slurp loudly and it bothers me...could you try not to...), it still bothers you, why not just try to control yourself? Your reaction is disproportionate. You are the one who needs to readjust. Your condition (in a case like this) is not vindication for rude behavior. Make an excuse and leave the room if you have to.

Again, I realize some conditions and syndromes put things out of our control, but not all of them. We need to stop using them as excuses.

Misophonia, indeed. I'm not saying it is not real. It is an actualy brain "disorder." (As I said, I think I "suffer" from it.) I'm saying it is something you need to recognize as your problem and one that doesn't entitle you to be a jerk. There are quite a few other "conditions" that fall into this category, if you ask me. But who has time?


  1. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but quick spell check: Tourettes* not Turrets.

    I should probably be asking myself this, but I think it'd be interesting to have your opinion as well since you seem to think more critically: I have those miso-moments (ha HA, clever~) when I'm eating with my family. Some days, I hardly notice anything. Other days, every clicking, every chew, every gulp, every smacking of the facial anatomy causes me to wriggle in my chair and lose my mind. In those situations, I don't say why, but I ask to leave the table and eat in another room.

    So my question: is this rude and intolerant, or is it an act of keeping my irrationality away from others?

    1. I'd also like to add that I sympathize with your attitude towards this recent deterministic approach in education and other mainstream sources of information. I deal with it quite frequently in my field, and we set aside one class period for a critical discussion of it. We all came to the conclusion that it is force-fed to the public by people who either: (A) don't understand the complex workings of our biology with our environment; (B) want to find an excuse for their behavior; or, (C) both. It's sad to hear that your son is being fed this kind of misinformation as well.

    2. No, it wasn't intentional. Not sure what I was thinking. Perhaps of a machine gun...

      No , I think removing yourself is the right thing to do -- instead of being mean, you diffused the situation. That's what I'm talkin' about! (It is really an awful kind of anger, isn't it?)

      I think people do tend to confuse tendency with inevitability. Or, as I said, they reason it out that way to avoid blaming or being blamed. It's very convenient, for sure.