April 24, 2018

Take On “the Burden”: To Calm the Angry or Argumentative | Blatant Berry

“When the sane are dealing with the insane, the burden is on the sane.” That was one of my father’s favorite axioms, especially after some family argument (or a few drinks). The rest of the family used the idea frequently to calm our angry discussions with one another or with our friends and adversaries. We usually shortened the old man’s maxim to “the burden is on the sane,” as we simultaneously disdained and made peace with those who confronted us. As I grew older, I understood that the adage provided good guidance for human interactions but was better left unsaid during arguments or disputes.

I learned that it is very helpful to remind yourself that “the burden is on the sane” in library relations with complaining and outraged adult users, errant and noisy adolescents, children in the midst of a temper tantrum, and older patrons who become almost irrational when they can’t find those quiet and relatively empty reading rooms they think they remember from the good old days.

Reminding myself of who has “the burden” made me a better young adult librarian, reference librarian, and library administrator. Of course, I expanded the definition of insane to cover anyone who spoke out in anger, argued against library policy, made a disturbance, or did anything that I thought was irrational or too loud.

I used the axiom as permission to stretch library rules and regulations to calm the beastly patron or quiet the rambunctious middle schooler. Back when I was a brand new young adult librarian, I found that the aphorism helped me put an end to that library’s bad habit of ejecting misbehaving teens, often calling the police, and replace it with simply reasoning with those youths to quiet down.

Remembering who carried “the burden” made me a more logical person and librarian whenever conflict arose. It also made my life much more peaceful than it would have been if I were sucked into the argument or began to feel exasperated myself. It made it possible to empathize with my adversaries instead of challenging them or having them removed from the building.

I always thought of my father when a situation got to the point that I had to take up “the burden,” and I remembered that the saying always calmed him in our disputes with each other, allowing him to write off whatever infraction I had committed with a sigh and sometimes even forgiveness.

Don’t think taking on “the burden” meant I always lost the argument or conceded the point. Sometimes I did that, but just as often it helped me convince an adversary to drop the issue. “I agree,” I might say, “that is a dumb policy. But it is my job to enforce it.”

I don’t advise pushing the idea too far or expecting too much success. On the other hand, it will certainly help you deal with those difficult occasions involving other humans by remembering what the old man said: “When the sane are dealing with the insane, the burden is on the sane.” Amen, dear father, amen.

This article was published in Library Journal's December 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.



  1. The burden is also on the competent.

  2. Great advice from a sage soul. Thanks as always, John!

  3. Roger From Oz says:

    Superb, thanks for sharing.

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