Lately, I’ve begun to get annoyed at the number of people in my life, especially at work, who take themselves far too seriously, henceforth to be called The Ones Who Matter, or TOWM.

That feels strange to me, because for most of my life I’ve been on the side of the ones who are accused of that very thing. The annoying people were the ones making the accusations, instead, usually something along the lines of “‘to Jew him down’ is just a phrase people use, it doesn’t really *mean* anything about Jewish people”, or “of course I don’t *really* think all women are stupid – can’t you take a joke?” or “you’re over-reacting! I’m not a racist.” I still find those people annoying and I still find that the people accused of taking themselves too seriously in those situations are the ones I want to spend time with. (Also, they’re often much funnier, because they can conceive of humor that doesn’t depend on belittling someone else.)

I was trying to figure out what makes the difference between those people and the recent spate of annoying TOWM, and I think it comes down to two things.

The people accused of taking themselves too seriously in the examples I give above are in fact often not thinking of themselves at all. They are thinking of their people, the ones with whom they share a religion or a gender or a skin color, and when thye take umbrage, it’s on account of that group. Sometimes it’s on behalf of a group they don’t even belong to, as in all of the men who get offended at antiwoman jokes (and vice versa).

Then there are the people who do take themselves and their own work very seriously, without being so annoying. My husband is one of those: whatever project he embarks on becomes Very Important and Essential, even when it’s something that most people would say is not all that critical, like categorizing our photographs. (Admitted, I do get annoyed with that occasionally, but only when it uses a resource I want, like his attention or time or computer.)

The other factor that differentiates TOWM, I think, is that to be complete, their descriptor should really be TOWMMTY: The Ones Who Matter More Than You, at least in their own minds. When my husband works on his projects, he thinks it’s normal for me to take mine just as seriously. He doesn’t complain if I say “Just one more row to knit, then I’ll be ready”. TOWMMTY, on the other hand, think their work (by implication, their selves) are more important than yours. They are the ones who tell you they’re too busy to come to your desk, so why don’t you come to theirs? They are the ones who push you to get things done because they’re so important, even after you’ve pointed out that the only holdup is the part they need to do before anyone else can progress. And then, of course, there are the proverbial special snowflakes, the ones who will tell you that formal processes are fine are long as someone else has to follow them, or that your policy is fine as long as it doesn’t apply to them, or who are convinced that their lightest word is of weighty importance and must be remembered, whereas yours, not so much.