Friday, December 24, 2010

What is Wrong With People? Holiday Edition

Over a year ago, I wrote the post What is Wrong With People? There are times when I am still shocked about how people interact with others.

I was in a grocery store. The aisles were crowded with holiday shoppers and their carts. There are two sizes of carts in the grocery store...small and extra large. I selected the big cart because I was stocking up on supplies for the holiday weekend. The people with the small carts were buzzing through the aisles winding around other shoppers and the free standing POP displays. It reminded me of the old Atari game Frogger.

I wanted to try a new recipe so I was taking my time through the store making sure I was buying all the items I needed. The extra large carts they provide in the grocery stores are marketing genius. The carts are longer and wider and never look you keep adding more items to the cart. I came to the end of the aisle and had to make a turn. I was cautious because the little carts and the people with the hand held baskets were moving quickly through the store. As I was making the turn...BAM...someone ran into the back of my foot with their cart. If this has ever happened to you, I am sure you hurts. I know for certain if I would have smashed someone with a shopping cart, I would have felt terrible and apologized.

That is not what happened.

Instead the woman yelled at me...."I wasn't expecting you to stop so suddenly!"

That's all she said as she continued shopping.

I was left speechless by her reaction. Thinking back on the incident, I wonder if I should have said something to her.

What is wrong with people?


Journeyman said...

The holidays seem to bring out the best and the worst in people. Sometimes it seems that common courtesy is going by the wayside. This very morning, an angry motorist took offense to me passing them as they were driving along well under the speed limit in their lane. They rode my butt, put their high beams on, shot me the finger a dozen times and were generally just being idiots.

Filled with the holiday spirit, I smiled, waved and mouthed "Merry Christmas". What is wrong with people, indeed.

On a happier note, I was going through the drive through of a coffee shop and another motorist and I pulled up to the drive through lane at the same time. I was actually first, but I waved the other motorist to go first, after all, it really didn't add much time to my day.

Well, I ordered my coffee and drove up to the window to pay and was told that the car in front of me had paid for my coffee. I even got the change from the 5 dollar bill that she left. I put the change in the wall mounted tray that collects for charity but was struck by the small gesture of kindness that I had been shown.

Good and bad. I keep trying to concentrate on the good. Then again, if there was no bad, I'd be out of a job...

Happy holidays!

Unknown said...

She's the same person who, after rear-ending you at a stop light, would yell at you for causing the accident. Probably has nothing to do with the holidays, some people just won't take responsibility for their actions.

Here's a fun experiment I like to do at Thanksgiving. I'm the "disposable person." You know, the person who (even if they vanished off the face of the earth) the Thanksgiving meal can continue without them. As such, I'm the person who leaves Thanksgiving morning to grab aluminum foil or pepper or something.

Anyway, I was walking around the grocery store, grumbling under my breath when I realized that everyone else at the store was just as pissed off as I was. I was in a store full of disposable people. So, I glance at the person next to me and he glared back at me. I let my face relax, smiled at him and wished him a genuinely warm "Happy Thanksgiving." He looked startled for a moment, then he chuckled and said "Happy Thanksgiving" back. Next thing you know, the aluminum foil aisle was filled with disposable people laughing and wishing each other a happy holiday.

Now, every holiday, I seek out the most haggard person I find. I give them a real smile and a real wish for a good holiday. There's always that second of disbelief ...followed by the realization we're all in this madness together.

sandman said...

Blech... Reminds me of a few people where I work. There is one guy in particular - he started working there a few months ago, in a different department. I noticed that he was a new face walking down the hall and I smiled and nodded - just being friendly - and he acted like he didn't see me. I tried again a few more times, each time with the same reaction. Now I don't bother, but for the life of me I can't understand what's so hard about giving someone a smile???

Jim Roach Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...

"I was left speechless..." Of course you should have said something to her. The real question is what? The other question is why did you not?

Interesting, you remembered her exact words and exactly how it made you feel...good for you. Should you try to understand "what is wrong with people"?...nope. Given the right conditions anything can be an insult, given the right conditions almost nothing can be an insult.

Would you say based on your lack of reaction that she was attacking your conscious mind or your unconscious? I would say the latter, of course such an attack as hers cannot be understood on the conscious level, she did not want it to be. She wanted to "hit and run", remaining anonymous.

As Strother Martin said to Paul Newman: "What we have here is a failure to communicate". After all, look at how she was trying to communicate. The vast majority of people in the supermarket would not run their carts into you and then blame you for stopping would they?

Most of the time we don't have to understand people's nonsense, however attacks to the unconscious play on our human capacity to believe almost anything is relevant or important.

In other words, she (like many others who insult) wanted you to think that she is important. If you identified with her, you would hurl insults back. Many people do this based on using unoriginal 4 letter words they learned in grammar school playgrounds from other kids.

Another venue finds us turning on ourselves and feeling miserable for not saying something. In a third case a person tries to free themselves through self-understanding.

I like saying "I'll bet", (if she came back with something insulting, you could follow up with) followed by "Next you'll tell me you were trying to get to the chocolate fish in a hurry".

The phenomenon of "speechless" is also known as "L'esprit de l'escalier" as defined by Wikipedia: (or l'esprit d'escalier), usually translated as "staircase wit", is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful, after one has left the scene of the encounter. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by a feeling of regret at not having thought of the retort when it was most needed or suitable.

Jim Roach Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...

People are found of telling us things as to "how to handle" what you experience. I agree to disagree with the folks who have commented thus far. None of those can help you to "know what to say". You said it yourself, you want to know what you could have said. Not knowing what to say then not saying anything is still just ignoring the offender and that is what most people do.

However, because it is what most people do does not necessarily make it the right thing to do. In other words, humans go around ignoring one another. After all, even at its prickly worst, someone running into you and then saying what she did is still a form of communication...albeit a poor one.

As martial artists, I think we have a duty to teach others to respond to any situation like that appropriately but also with compassion. if we go around ignoring others, where is our compassion? I think we also need to hear ourselves saying something. Now here is the mysterious part.

As I said, I don't think insults are designed to contact us at the conscious level. After all, if it were, undoubtedly, we would be able to "know what to say" more or less would be relatively easy to respond. I think insults hit us at a kind of "preverbal" level of our consciousness...the unconscious if you will. That level exists in all of us, it is the domain of poets who are the most comfortable in it however. They deal in the figurative with ease, comfortable in the language that leaves the literal and hits the imagination. That's where she really "ran into you", not in the foot, but in the imagination...that's where she "hit" you.

How in the world would anyone except a poet, know "exactly" what to say automatically, if she is sparring with you in your imagination?

Since we don't know or care "why?" she did things the way she did, we can react with compassion. So coming back with a short response is best, don't give her something to respond to. Above all, don't say something that can escalate the situation...saying too much can do that. Don't give anything they "can hang their hat on". I like saying "I'll bet", let her "imagination" figure out what it "means". It means everything and it means nothing. In fact is she asks: "What does that mean?' you can respond with "Something nice".

Even saying something like "I'll bet", "You sure?", "Or, vice versa" can work to make ourselves feel good about ourself even now. Who wants to engage in self-inflicted contrition over something said to our imagination? Like I said, people like to deal unconsciously themselves from the level they learned in the playground, whether that is four letter words or even slightly more sophisticated. When they insult you, they don't want a communication, they want you to be a dwarf and deal with you at that level.

I think insults are a "raid" on that part of you that could not articulate a response if it wanted to:

"Thomas Merton speaks of poetry as “a raid on the unspeakable,” .

"T.S. Eliot, in an act of heroic plagiarism, called his own work a “raid on the inarticulate”. A nice oxymoron which points up as fatuous the act of definition.

Early 20th Century poets saturated with the ideas of Freud and Jung take the view that poetry is, as Eliot and Merton noted, –an invocation of the inarticulate. A vain attempt to access and finesse the chimera of responses to experiences that we have as humans. A squint eye into the subconscious. A quivering hand on the page the writing barely legible."


Elmer Querubin said...

Wow - how can people be so rude. If this was a vehicle scenario, the fault always go to the person driving in the rear for following too closely.

I understand, but hopefully you've forgotten about this incident and received a lot of presents over the holidays.