It's ok to be annoyed


To many people, the IPNA (Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) sounds like an attractive idea. Banning the things that annoy us? Yes we'd love it if we could use it on gas bills and One Direction. But dreams aside, there are good reasons why it would be a bad idea to turn our often subjective annoyances into something absolutely criminal.

Firstly, it's about growing up. Being an adult means dealing with things we don't like. On one level that does mean boring jobs like washing up and sorting out tax returns, but it also means dealing with each other in a mature and civilised way. If we can't put to one side the little things that bother us and get on with the important things of life, we haven't grown up.

Imagine if you had the power to arrest the girl at the office who always told you in intricate detail about her weekend, or the person who always walks at a snail's pace across the zebra crossing at the very moment you are in a rush to get somewhere. Or how about the times we have annoyed others, often without realising or intending it? How many of us would be in jail if there were a law against annoying people? Street preachers, one of the groups who stand to be affected by the IPNA if it comes into force, do not set out each day to annoy people. They set out to make us think, something which too often is considered "annoying".

While these examples are obviously extreme, they represent a deeper truth. Too often we want the world to be exactly as we want it. We're not willing to put up with anything that irritates. While this latest proposed law might only give us a little power to deal with that more, it's like using a sledgehammer to kill the fly on the window.

Secondly, it's about freedom. If people can just lock away anyone who espouses a view they don't like on the streets because it irritates, a lot of people aren't going to be able to share what they believe are important truths. You might not believe they're important. You might find them facetious and frustrating, but a slightly disagreeable viewpoint should not mean the person espouses it is taken away in a police car, something which is already happening.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it's about understanding. Only by actually dealing with someone who might annoy you will you actually have any hope of properly understanding where they are coming from. And is so beyond us to consider that the other person may actually be right? It's tempting these days, with the vast, seemingly infinite web of culture presented to us on the internet, to just endlessly pick and choose only what we like and nothing else. In the end the breadth and variety of views out there does nothing to broaden our minds.

There is a sense in which just desiring not to be annoyed disconnects us from each other and puts up unnecessary walls. We want others to leave us alone just as we are leaving them alone, and in the end we become more alone than is healthy for a society to properly function. The interaction disappears, the exchange of ideas disappears. And so too does the sense of a shared humanity. Anger flares because instead of seeing another human, we just see a viewpoint or an action, and instead of having patience and bearing with one another, we just want that person removed. The more we surround ourselves with our own views, the less we tolerate those who differ.

Those out in the public spaces, the places where we can't fail to see them, are fighting against a dangerous tide. A tide where we all exist in our little smartphone sized echo chambers, consuming nothing but what we know we can stomach. We need to get out of our comfort zones, we need to find out how the world works, not just look harder at the parts we like. A law that would make staying in our pigeon holes that little bit more comfortable is the last thing we need. And while it would be nice to hush every busker who annoyed us or lock away those who park inconsiderately, the truth is this law lacks a solid safeguard against abuse.

We get annoyed by lots of things, and too often it's just people saying things we disagree with. But if we were more thoughtful, more considered, and were encouraged to listen instead of dismissing out of hand, although we might not come to agree with the louder patrons of Speaker's Corner, at least we'd better understand them. But if we can just lock them up and throw away the key, why would be bother to be thoughtful?

When it comes to public discourse, we need laws that support the broadening of our minds, that protect our freedoms, and most importantly don't give us any option but to simply grow up.