Suzanne Tobias

Willful annoyance is easy to spot, define

I’ve never visited Grand Rapids, Mich., and now I’m not sure I want to.

The leaders of that fine Michigan city have nixed one of the wisest, most practical, most common-sense laws I’ve ever heard – one that not only should stay on the books in Grand Rapids but should be adopted by every other city, state and nation in the world:

“No person shall willfully annoy another person.”

That, my friends, is a good rule.

In the Tobias household, ever since the kids were past that irrational toddler stage – and especially after they became teenagers – it has been one of the top three Rules of the House:

1) Love one another.

2) Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

3) Don’t be annoying on purpose.

According to the Grand Rapids Press, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted this week to scrap the 38-year-old section of city code that essentially made it illegal to be a jerk. The city attorney recommended repealing the language because the wording was “unconstitutional in terms of being vague” and “simply unenforceable.”

Unconstitutional? I’m no lawyer, so maybe.

But vague? Unenforceable? I disagree.

When it comes to rules – and that’s what laws should be, right? rules for getting along in society? – you can’t get much clearer than “no person shall willfully annoy another person.”

Here’s how “willfully annoying” translates in our house:

It is holding your finger a dime’s width away from your sibling’s cheek in the back seat of the car and saying, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.”

It is playing that repeat-everything-they-say game. For way too long.

It is grabbing somebody’s iPod and switching the song, blowing in somebody’s face, making weird popping noises with your mouth, whistling incessantly, purposely blocking someone’s view of the television.

It is doing anything again after somebody has said, “Please stop. That’s annoying.”

I realize that annoyance, like love or beauty, is subjective. What’s annoying to one person could be entertaining to another. (Case in point: Carrot Top.)

Even so, willful annoyance seems pretty clear-cut: If you’re doing something for the express purpose of heckling, bothering, perturbing, enraging or exasperating another human being, you’re annoying – the verb and the adjective – so just stop it already.

When Grand Rapids leaders voted on the change this week, one commissioner joked: “Now that my kids aren’t teenagers anymore, I think I can support this.”

Grand Rapids can do what it wants. At our house, where teenagers live and annoyance abounds, the rule stays.

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