Somebody was spoiling for a fight with me…

So I’m on the bus today, talking to a friend on my phone. The bus is rather noisy, but I do have a loud voice, especially when I’m animated about something, and I was pretty psyched up about what I was saying to my friend. And then this young white-collar type man asks me, “do you want to wrap it up?”

I said, “I’m sorry, what?”

He goes, “do you want to wrap it up already? We’re sick of hearing about your fucking life.”

I admit I wasn’t really expecting that. My reaction was, “ok, I’ll move this way a bit.” And I moved down to a part of the bus a bit further out of earshot for him. But what surprised me in the moments afterwards was how much this got to me. My knees got weak. His remarks suddenly took up so much space in my mind. I felt defeated, and I felt like I hadn’t responded properly.

I have no problem at all being considerate and deferring to somebody’s suggestion. If he had said “would you mind keeping it down a bit?” I would have obliged happily. It was his attitude towards me… I felt as though I had just shown the rest of the people on that bus that it was ok to talk brashly to someone completely unknown to you–like I hadn’t stood up for justice.

I also admit that I do have a side that can be very combative. I used to be worse than this guy. Nowadays I have gained the self-control to understand that getting snarled up in somebody else’s negativity is something you want to avoid doing; hence my pacifistic reaction. But still… though I would not want to have gotten into a gritty argument or fight with this person, there is this part of me that wishes that I had come up with something witty to say in front of all of those people. So I play back scenarios in my head in which I respond differently–something like:

  • “It doesn’t spread goodwill to use the word ‘fuck’ to a stranger from whom you want something. Please rephrase your request.”
  • “What made you feel so threatened by me that you would speak to me like that?” (making a point of continuing to engage him)
  • “Do you speak Spanish? [the person I was talking to and I both speak in Spanish at times] No? Ok, I’ll speak Spanish to my friend so you won’t hear about my ‘fucking’ life then!” 🙂 (I would then talk in Spanish to my friend and slowly walk away–because the point is not to make his life hell, but rather to make him and everyone around him think a bit).
  • “Wow, to be talking like that, you must have had a bad day! For your sake, my friend, take it easy, we’re almost at Central Square anyway. I’m not that bad. Here, I’ll move over here to help you relax a bit.” (we were maybe 3 minutes away from the last stop, at which both of us got off)

The point is not to start a fight. The point is to stand your ground, especially since it was in front of other people. To stand your ground against negative ugliness, to show people that negativity doesn’t win–like this guy did. I feel as though I failed to do that.

It really isn’t the biggest deal. What I ended up doing was fine–it diffused the situation, and it’s not like my backing down resulted in some further gross injustice. Nobody got hurt, nothing got worse as a result of my not standing up to him. But, honestly… I can’t say I don’t wish I could do that over again, in that vainglorious part of my mind. 🙂

Over the latest part of my life, I have been trying very hard to come off as nonthreatening. This has shielded me from thinking like a boastful yahoo, and that’s good. But I think this is also the signal that, as much as I don’t want to be looked at as threatening, I am ready for a higher level of living: one in which I exist freely enough that I must expect to be threatening to some people no matter what, though I do try not to be. Once I live more like this, I will be more ready for the disgruntled fellow busriders of the world.

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17 Responses to Somebody was spoiling for a fight with me…

  1. Angel says:

    I like the Spanish response 😉 funny and puts him in his place

  2. MPositive says:

    Somebody I know wrote me this over email:

    Don’t feel bad he was the one who looked ignorant and disgruntal. When you have joy inside the devil always comes to steal it fast no matter what! He can’t have anyone excited with happiness it is a task he performs his mean works every day for many t riders any the world. Just be alert and aware of his ways before the happen and be one step ahead of the game. It is a mindgame don’t fall for the trick to join his posse. You did right by walking away!

    Your other suggestions were great responses tooo! I love them but responding to his ignorance could have made him want to take his anger out on you and you want to keep your life going happily and peacefully without any drama because some people are really crazy. It is a serious problem in this world and only God can help them!

    reasoning with him might not register in his brain you don’t know what people are on either no matter what they are wearing. Stay encourage and you did what any smart man would do is turn the other cheek like MLK Jr did by non promoting violence! Good job, I’m proud no matter what those people think! You thought how to solve a problem in the mist of a. Serious couragious test! God Bless you and I pray your safety home see you tommorow. Ok? Great job!!! Ok?

    Yes. Thanks for the encouragement and see you tomorrow. I only hope that the others on the bus saw the same thing.

  3. Evelyne says:

    I think your response was fine as it was. Sometimes you don’t want to start anything with strangers especially on public transportation. You have no idea where they are coming from and what they have on their minds so, try to avoid fueling the fire unless you know who you’re fighting with.

  4. Kelly says:

    I cant believe that guy said that to you!!! Thats one of the worst mean bostonian stranger interactions I’ve heard in a long time! I like your list of after-the-fact reactions you would have said differently. I do the same thing, and it makes me feel better to know what I really should have said to them but didn’t because I willed myself to be nice.

  5. Mitch says:

    Thanks for the responses, folks. I think my first reflex is not to fire back precisely because I used to be the one that would fire back, and it would feel good in the moment but ultimately get nowhere.

    It’s the whole, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” I prefer to think of it as, “as long as you aren’t nasty, it’s fine. But it’s even better if it’s nice.” Seth Godin makes that point nicely here, especially in the way he concludes.

  6. breaaire says:

    I like to remind myself how I want to be treated in public by saying to myself “You can turn the other cheek, but if you turn too often, you end up back where you started ~ do you want to be there?”

    I like your responses, and I probably wouldn’t have been as cool about it. I would have most likely told him to worry about his own f-ing life and plug his ears if he doesn’t like it. Or asked if he wanted me to call his momma and find out who taught him his manners in public.

  7. Shamona says:

    Some people are just Impossible! Their whole goal is to make others miserable. The person on the bus knew exactly what he was doing and knew he could of worded it better. You couldn’t think of a good comeback at the time because he didn’t present a good arguement. He was just flat out rude and comments like that don’t deserve a respond. Let it die out in the air.

  8. Bill Brueggemeyer says:

    I know that he was rude to you, but in the final analysis he was right and you were wrong. Just because you can make or take a phone call anywhere does not mean that you should. Buses, restaurants, other crowded public places are inappropriate for phone calls.

    Also, aside from the word fucking, there was no aggression or hostility here.

    • Buses, restaurants, other crowded public places are inappropriate for phone calls.

      I would say that this one depends… public places that are already noisy are fine as long as you aren’t making a ruckus (my voice can be loud, so in my case I would very well admit to having been loud, and a simple “could you keep it down” would have been great, without the snapping and expletive).

      aside from the word fucking, there was no aggression or hostility here.

      His tone of voice matched his use of the F-word. Let me be clear: his wrong does not negate my wrong, and I was talking loudly… but my wrong does not excuse his behavior either. Besides, my behavior was unintentionally offensive (I was not aware) whereas his was much more intentionally offensive. This is why I wanted to reply to him with something sharp to get him thinking… and then take his suggestion and walk away and lower my voice.

      • aaasd says:

        Look, the guy is right, maybe swearing was wrong, but his sentiment was spot on.

        Maybe you will take a note of this and next time you want to hold a loud conversation in a public place where others are trapped with you, you might decide to ring back later.

        Time to get over it and learn from it

      • Have already taken note. He was right to speak up.

        This is not something that haunts me at all (I wrote this post a while ago). But I still don’t think that I would have been wrong for saying something to the effect of “look, I get your point, but don’t attack me like this, I am listening to you and you don’t have to act as though you’re in battle.”

        It’s tense exchanges like this – and an environment of “silence till you can’t be silent anymore” – that lead to unnecessary arguments, fights, and misunderstandings that get blown out of proportion. People get afraid to talk to those around them, so they say nothing unless or until they become annoyed. I make my mistakes, but that doesn’t exclude me from also being able to say, “hey, I hear you, now please hear me…”

  9. You're rude says:

    You fail to note that it’s just rude to have loud, long conversations in an enclosed public space, which leads me to believe you don’t realize that what you were doing was inconsiderate. It was. You should know that although only one man said something to you on the bus, most of the people around you were irritated by what you were doing.

    • I can see this now. I did not see it then. I have told other people calmly to quiet down myself… swearing at a stranger is way ruder if you ask me, because it shows intention to be rude.

      I make mistakes, and I do boneheaded things, just like any other human. Is there not a better way to address such things, especially when really, nobody is going to get seriously hurt or die?

  10. Anon says:

    You, sir, are a boor, and deserved eveything you got.

  11. Matthew says:

    Stumbled across your article, reminded me of this:
    Some people just don’t get it.

    • I get it, but I disagree that you have to just shut up or put up.

      There is often a polarity in people’s thinking: that either you “get it” and move on, or you stay stuck in whiny la-la land, pining over insignificant things. Sometimes life is not that simple. Sometimes things that generally look very insignificant can attain a monstrous significance, for other reasons. And it’s ok to probe why something hurts or knocks you around even if it “shouldn’t.” Even if you were wrong in some way – you still deserve to feel good about yourself and know that you’ve done your best. Too often we are made to feel that we suck, that we’re losers, that we’re not good enough, etc. There’s enough of that to go round many times over.

      Even if you disagree with what I am saying, hopefully you can at least understand where I’m coming from. If not, well… there are plenty of other blogs that take a lot less to get into than mine. 🙂


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