Driven to distraction? 心烦意乱


Reader question:

Please explain this sentence, particularly "drives me to distraction": "Anyone who doesn't wear a facial mask drives me to distraction."

My comments:

I can imagine someone guarding the gate to a residential area saying this.

These days, in an attempt to fight the spread of the coronavirus, all people are advised to wear facial masks. And those who don't understandably draw the ire of guards - and folks in general.

If you don't wear a mask in a crowd or any public place, you make others nervous and emotional, I mean, annoyed, angry, confused, disturbed, exasperated, mad or at any rate very upset.

That's what driving someone to distraction means.

A distraction is something that draws your attention away from what you're doing or supposed to be doing at the moment. To be driven to distraction means you lose your focus and won't be able to continue doing what you've been doing.

A pretty girl new to the classroom, for example, drives many boys to distraction. They no longer can concentrate on the teacher. They keep stealing timorous glances at the pretty girl.

That's a good distraction to have, I hear you say. Sure, but many far more negative emotions are aroused, as is the case in our example.

Someone refusing to wear a mask in a crowd puts themselves and possibly other people in harm's way and that makes people unsettled and angry.

Whatever the case, when we are driven to distraction, we lose our concentration. Worse, we lose our cool. We lose our composure. Sometimes, we lose control altogether.

And that's not good.

All right, here are media examples of people who are driven to distraction:

1. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The tragedy occurred when the princess, still young at age 36, was killed in a car crash. The crash happened in an underpass in Paris in the early hours of August 30th, 1997. The collision resulted in Diana, accompanied by her boyfriend, Dodi Al-Fayed, and her bodyguard as they tried to evade a pursuing paparazzi car, causing the Mercedes-Benz they were in to smash into an underpass column at more than 100 miles an hour.

News of her death sent shockwaves around the world, resulting in a massive outpouring of grief for the former wife of the Prince of Wales, Charles, heir to the British throne. A year after Diana and Charles divorced, Diana died, and the entire globe mourned the passing of a woman universally loved. Countless flowers were laid at the gates of Buckingham Palace and outside her home of Kensington Palace, and tensions even simmered (whipped up by the newspapers) when the Queen remained out of the public eye.

The treatment of the Royal Family where Diana was concerned boiled over into real anti-Monarchy sentiment in the week leading up to her funeral. Her funeral was watched by 100s of millions of people worldwide, and through her sons, Diana's legacy remains strong. However, what if the series of disasters - such as the car's drunk driver, Diana wearing a seatbelt, among others - had not resulted in Diana's death?


Although the royal families of British and Middle-Eastern nations appear friendly with one another, they'd both find the idea of intermarriage distasteful. For one thing, those Royal houses are different religions, but even more so, Dodi Al-Fayed was technically a commoner, the son of the former boss of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed who had to flee his native Egypt due to tax evasion - money he allegedly bought Harrods with.

The ingrained racism of the establishment was another reason that some ponder whether or not Diana was murdered because the Royals did not like Diana being seen with the son of a Muslim tycoon that was refused British citizenship twice. It also sets a quite scary insinuation that although those that divorce from the Royal Family (Diana, Sarah Ferguson, Mark Phillips) think they have left that life behind, often realize that the Royals are not so keen to let go to protect their image.



Princess Diana was by far one of the most sought-after people in the public eye, hence the reason the paparazzi drove her to distraction and death. Her eminent status meant she had access to some of the most prominent stars and rubbed shoulders with the people like Elton John (consoling him at Gianni Versace's funeral). She was also friends with George Michael, and on her first trip to America, she requested a dance with John Travolta, a demand that was granted. It seems that there was an increased spike in reality TV spiked soon after Diana's death and although this was likely not connected, the pull of the world's media towards Princess Diana's natural beauty and grace carried so much weight that the press gravitated towards her. She certainly never needed to resort to her ass breaking the internet, or repetitive reality shows or pouting on the red carpet, just being Diana always meant a draw for the public.

- 15 Things That Would've Happened If Princess Diana Hadn't Died,, November 16, 2017.

2. DEAR CAROLYN: I work in an extremely demanding job that has always expected late nights, overtime, uncompensated work on the weekends, and basically a commitment to make it one of the most important things in your life.

It’s a charity organization that I deeply agree with, and I have always made that commitment happily.

A new hire started at the firm recently who doesn’t. It drives me to distraction to see “Pat” swan out of the office at half five, never answer emails until arriving at work, and rarely work through lunch. On occasion, when we have an emergency project on short notice, Pat will chip in with the rest of us, but not often. Pat admits to not understanding our commitment to the job and says it’s different in Europe (where Pat is from), where they “work to live.”

It would be annoying if Pat did this and was failing, but Pat’s work is consistently praised by our boss and Pat is in line for a promotion.

Is this person just so efficient that working hours are enough for what it takes me sleepless nights to do? Or have I just been pointlessly running in this hamster wheel expecting someone to see how much I love my job?


DEAR HAMSTER: That darn Pat, committing flagrant acts of sanity.

Is that really why you work for free — “expecting someone to see how much I love my job”? As in, giving your power to the boss?

If so, then please see Pat as a living flick to the forehead. And a role model.

Maybe start with waiting till you get into the office to start work. Then move on to a firm departure time. If you typically leave around 8 p.m., then choose 7:30 p.m., then 7, etc., backing your way into a life outside of the office. Watch for workplace consequences, adjust schedule accordingly, repeat.

In the hours you free up, read articles on human productivity, especially in desk jobs. Pat might actually do better work because of the lighter schedule and firmer boundaries.

Also, here’s the easiest change ever: Tweak your vocabulary. Pat doesn’t “swan out of the office”; Pat leaves work. Presumably, to do other things Pat enjoys.

In fact, Pat sounds like someone worth treating to lunch — as in, leave the office and order food and don’t talk shop — so you can find out more about working less.

- Ask Carolyn Hax: This co-worker is rewarded for European-style slacking off,, April 22, 2019.

3. It takes some courage to write still another biography of Karl Marx, especially if the writer has dared to go through the 40 volumes of his writings and his correspondence. Francis Wheen seems to have done that research scrupulously, open to both colorful stories and thunderous ideas.

The time is right for a new appraisal of Marx because ignoramuses and shitheads (the spellcheck on my computer rejected this, suggesting instead “hotheads, catheads, whiteheads, skinheads”) on all parts of the ideological spectrum have distorted his ideas in ridiculous ways. Forgive me, but I want to give you the flavor of Marx's personality, which included frequent insults directed at those, whether bourgeois or left intellectuals, who drove him to distraction by disagreeing with him—not, I agree, an admirable trait, but we must be honest about people we otherwise admire.

Marx has been stupidly (there, I've caught the virus of virulence again) linked with Stalin, by both Stalinists and apologists for capitalism. So this is a good time to set the record straight. The reviewer of Wheen's book in the New York Times Book Review seemed to think that the lack of Marxists in departments of economics, history and philosophy is somehow proof of the inadequacy of Marx's theories and, absurdly, wonders “why the rest of us should bother with Marx's ideas now that the Berlin Wall has fallen.”

Wheen lets you know immediately where he stands on this matter: “Only a fool could hold Marx responsible for the Gulag; but there is, alas, a ready supply of fools.” Marx “would have been appalled by the crimes committed in his name.” He has been “calamitously misinterpreted.” And the misinterpretation has been bipartisan, as “all these bloody blemishes on the history of the 20th century were justified in the name of Marxism or anti-Marxism.”

This is a worthy enterprise, to distinguish Marx himself from the actions of the so-called Marxists (who led an exasperated Marx at one time to say: “I am not a Marxist.”), as well as to keep alive his still-accurate critique of capitalism.

- Howard Zinn on How Karl Marx Predicted Our World Today, In, May 4, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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