Saturday, December 3, 2016

Navigating a jackassed world

*TRIGGER WARNING: Post about motherhood and the Beats ahead. For those not in a place where they want to hear about small children and encounters with other mothers, PLEASE skip this. As always take care of yourself first. 

It was a simple incident. One that happened so fast that I find myself questioning it. Did it even happen? Does it truly matter? And yet it's been sitting with me all afternoon. So I might as well get it out.

This morning, as Grey was out running errands, I walked with the Beats down to a local shop to buy a crepe for them for lunch. In an effort to avoid the busy main streets, we walked through the neighborhood. Coming back from the shop, we encountered a woman you was pushing a stroller towards her car parked in front of her house. Eying me and the Beats she said hello before swinging the stroller in next to her car. Seeing that she had loaded a young boy in the stroller and I looked back to see if she would be heading our direction. Knowing I had two small kids on foot, sharing the sidewalk wasn't going to be much of an option.

Once it became clear that she was heading out direction, pointing her stroller directly at us, I stopped the Beats and informed them that we needed to cross the street to make room for the stroller. Looking both ways, we hustled across. As soon as we got to the other side, I heard this woman ask the boy if he wanted to cross the street at the exact location we had vacated. In seconds, she was behind us.

"Can I get by?" she asked sweetly. Looking around, the only option was for me and the Beats to step into the road. Yet she insisted. Looking at her, I pointed out that we had literally just crossed the street to avoid this issue. To which she responded "Oh! But he wanted to cross here." She then pushed passed us, narrowly missing both kids, and proceeded ahead of us.

"Why did she do that Momma?" He-Beat asked me as soon as we were back on the sidewalk. Both shocked and angry, it took me a second to recover before we turned the corner to make our way home.

"I don't know baby," I answered. "Sometimes people do selfish things."

Two weeks ago, Mel and Lori both wrote tandem posts that talked addressed the human selfishness. Lori's post about a driver who parked insanely close to her car, prompting her later reflect on her continuing to think about that incident has been on my mind all afternoon. After all, I was allowing this incident to affect my mood, which wasn't a good thing. But I've been countering Lori's insight of jackassing ourselves with Mel's question about whether people are actually good.

The bow on this inner turmoil is a documentary I recently watched about why people lie. Dan Ariely's work on irrationality isn't new to me, but what stuck with me is all the mechanisms we natural put into play in order to defend behavior that only gives us a slight advantage. We cheat because others are doing it, or we have some sort of inherent right, or because it's only a small fudge and won't really hurt others. Equally striking was how quickly that can all be torn down when people are reminded of their moral code. Ask them to swear on the bible or recall the 10 commandments (even if they are atheist), or simply ask someone to sign an honor code before a test or situation where they have the potential to cheat and cheating/lying disappears. When we are faced with our morality, often it wins.

I recently had my own encounter with morality. I believe in free speech and that conflicting opinions should be heard. Even when I don't agree. Because of this, I have approved 99.9% of comments that have been posted by actual humans to my blog (spam aside, of course). On Wednesday I got my second ever troll comment from LydiaofCO.  A new commenter with an account I can't access. The post was simple: "What a great night the election turned out to be! Remember, you preach love, open minded and tolerance. Practice what you preach!" My gut was initially to delete it. After all, who would know. But my moral code had me hold the comment, asking me if doing so was somehow silencing an valid opinion that needs to be heard outside the echo chamber. After all, this is someone who clearly has different views from myself.

At the end of the day, I won't be posting LydiaofCO's comment. I'm not interested in my comments section becoming a forum for others to scream nonsense at one another and, frankly, she doesn't express anything that adds insight to the conversation. But what it did do is provide the final piece to the puzzle today. One of wondering whether a similar exercise for the stroller mother would be useful.

During nap time, I wrote the following letter.

"Dear battling mother,

Today you had an encounter with myself and my two 3 years olds that presented a safety hazard to my kids. We were walking home after a trip to store when we encountered you pushing your stroller out to your car to load your son. In an effort to accommodate you, I crossed the street with my kids so that you would not be burdened with having to walk behind two toddlers. I found it interesting that you decided to cross at the exact same location, knowing full well that there would be two toddlers walking directly in front of you. When I pointed this out, your excuse was that your son had requested you cross there even though witnessed you stopping your stroller and then asking him and being aware that we had just done the exact same thing.

Three weeks ago, we learned how deeply divided our country is and how filled with hate so many of our citizens are. There has been a call to build community both to weather the pending storm that is coming but also to help foster the next generation. After our encounter, which left myself and my kids very shaken, we had a long conversation about selfish behavior and putting ones wants over the safety and security of others ends up costing us all. Though you may not see this, your decision effectively was one that forced my kids off the safety of the sidewalk and into the dangers of the road. This could have easily been avoided all together given that you could easily have pushed your stroller on the other sidewalk for a bit and then crossed.

What followed with this conversation was reasons why people who see themselves as inherently good make such decisions. We talked about the fact that you could have been having a bad day. Or that you were sad for some reason. Given how interested you were in these two, it’s possible you may have had a bad encounter with another mother who also had toddlers and felt a need to punish us for someone else’s wrong. You could also be sad as you may be dealing with secondary infertility or having conflicts with your partner about growing your family again. Or you could have just felt a need to pick on someone who seemed foreign to you. After all, there’s no reason you would ever see us again, so why treat us fairly?

So in a way, I do have to thank you as this encounter has been the start of a life-long discussion my husband and I will be having with our kids. About how we need to model our moral values and hopes for the world. Because the interaction with you today demonstrated the negative impacts self-centeredness and pettiness have on us at both as individuals as well as at global level.

I am sorry that you felt the need to act the way you did. In the end, everyone lost in that situation. Even your son as you modeled for him that it is okay to treat others poorly in order to get something you want. It’s so sad because this mentality only leads racism, xenophobia, bigotry and general fear. It’s a hard way to go through life. I’m even more sorry that you felt the need to act this way towards a stranger. That though you and I will likely never cross paths again (I can’t risk exposing my children to you again as their safety is my primary concern), you felt a need to treat two toddlers who are significantly smaller than you and their caretaker in such a manner. "

Just writing this letter alleviated a lot of the pent-up negativity. The question now is whether to send it as I have her address and can easily mail it. On the one hand, am I just adding to the negativity, causing more harm than good (a fear I generally have). But on the other, after living in a world where people block any perceived negative feedback, would the shock of this letter actually benefit? We are living the direct consequence of so many putting their heads in the sand, ignoring the plight and insights of others as it makes us reevaluate ourselves.



  1. I think you should send it, without providing a return address of course. ;)

    Worst case (and most probable) scenario: She blows you off with self-righteous indignation. Best case scenario: She sees her actions in a new perspective and tries harder next time to do the right thing. Either way, I think it's helpful for people to know that their actions have consequences, and affect others in ver real and lasting ways.

    If she doesn't know where you live and can't retaliate in any way, I would definitely send it. And then I would make sure to never walk down that block again.

  2. Help me out. As someone who is always walking in tow with two small ones and sharing valuable sidewalk space in a large city, what exactly went wrong? I'm not sure I understand this post. You were walking, crossed to avoid the stroller, but stroller ended up behind you anyway? Then you moved over so she could stroll by? I adore you; I think I rarely comment but I reread this several times and I don't get why this is an issue. Please help me understand!!

  3. Sorry. I see that the shared space forced you in the road; I can't visualize it. The sidewalk must be super thin! :)

    1. The sidewalks out here are very thin. It started with us being on the same side of the street and me knowing that she would likely want to pass us. To avoid any sidewalk conflict, I crossed. She then crossed at the exact same spot, recreating the conflict. The only resolution was either to hold our ground and force her to remain behind us (like in a one lane highway) or to step into a very busy street so she could pass. She basically forced us onto the road.

      Normally with how thin the sidewalks are people try to prevent conflict. I've pulled the kids into lawns and side walkways to allow others to pass. But this was belligerent. The only reason to do what she did was to be mean. And if a car had come at that exact moment, the kids and I would have been hit.

      As an aside, I can't get over how badly the roads are designed. Some sections have no sidewalks and the general repair is terrible.

    2. I can't imagine these skinny sidewalks!! Terrible! I always thought for ADA proposes there needed to be a left and right side per se. Basically enough room for multiple people to passes to and fro. Hmmmm...

  4. You are a far bigger person than I am because I would have lost my shit on that entitled woman (and I have in situations where I've been jackassed....).

    As for the letter, I'm glad you wrote it to get the frustration off of your chest, but I probably wouldn't send it. Mainly because I highly doubt she will even remember the interaction, or if she does, she won't understand why she was in the wrong. People like that almost never do. But second, for fear of retaliation. Plus, if you know where she lives, there's a decent chance that she knows where you live. If it happens again, I'd just say something along the lines of "Sure, just as soon as we find a safe place to step off of the sidewalk" and then continue on your way. She'll either be patient or she'll get the point and cross the road again. In my opinion, requests that could endanger safety are unreasonable.

    Also, regarding LydiaofCo's comment, I believe it's Mali (and if it's not, anyone can feel free to correct me) who points out that her blog is not a democracy and she will publish or delete whatever comments she wants to. She is wise. :)

  5. I agree with BentNotBroken... I think writing the letter was helpful but sending it wouldn't end up super constructive. She would probably dismiss you and not learn from it, and there would be nothing gained. Writing it is great, though, because what she did makes absolutely no sense in any context except power play. Her presence on the sidewalk is more important than yours. It sucked.

    Interestingly, LydiaofCO has commented on my blog multiple times, although not as of lately, and usually it's in opposition to whatever I'm writing but I usually publish it and comment back with my own thoughts, usually something along the lines of "this is why I disagree with you, but I appreciate your different perspective...I just don't agree with it." I haven't seen her in a while, not sure why but I'm not overthinking it too much or feeling an absence. :) I agree again with BentNotBroken though on the blog not being a democracy. You decide what goes there, and what purpose it serves.

    I'm sorry you were jackassed. I'm sorry your kids witnessed what happens when someone thinks they deserve more space than you, when they think they are "bigger" than you are and have to demonstrate that in unsafe ways. That sucks. Unfortunately, that behavior happens all the time, even though it's not right. Teaching your kids how to deal with these bullies will help them so much in the future. I wish dealing with bullies wasn't a necessary curriculum. Maybe someday.

  6. Can't quite picture the geography here. What was on the side of the sidewalk that wasn't the road? A lawn? A fence? Why step onto the road instead of someone's yard?

    I say this of course not knowing the neighbourhood and also knowing how poorly designed for walking some neighbourhoods are, especially newer ones in this city. Some new neighbourhoods don't even HAVE sidewalks. Still, a residential street with a narrow sidewalk, no boulevard, no place to step off safely, and I'm assuming not even the barrier of parked cars sounds like a scary place to walk especially with kids. That sort of an environment would make me edgy and cranky for sure. I associate this sort of stress and loss of faith in humanity with driving, not walking. Walking is my happy place. So from one walker to another, sorry that a relaxing experience turned into the opposite.

  7. I like the part about "how we need to model our moral values and hopes for the world." Hopefully your moral values include grace and forgiveness for the imperfectness/fallibility of ALL humans. Personally, I think the world would be less divided/filled with less hate if we'd spend a lot more time focusing on the good/nice things people do (as you did at the end of your commute post) and a lot less time focusing on the rude/inconsiderate things people do (as you are in this post). No, I would not send the letter. Would you want someone to send you a letter if they happened to catch you being less-than-your-normal-considerate-self on a bad day? If you even have to question (as you do) whether sending such a letter adds to the negativity, isn't that a pretty strong indicator that it's not the right choice? -Polly

  8. I'm glad that writing the letter was cathartic. It's hard to tell whether the difference is in the writing/sending, or in the reading/receiving. Probably both, but you can only control the first half. It's a wonderful letter.

    I can't imagine why she behaved that way, not just rude but deliberately rude. It would be fascinating to know her story.

    I agree with your reasoning about Lydia. I have made the same calls in my own space, where I am the dictator I was once accused of being.

    Wishing for us both a jackass-free rest of the week. Heck, month!

  9. By now you've probably decided what you do with the letter. I'm glad though that writing it was cathartic. And that it has helped you think about how you will talk about selfishness to your children.

    I am though going to suggest that maybe she did this because she felt the need to talk to another adult, even in such a simple way, or had a need to feel that someone was seeing her and her child. I don't think people necessarily do these things to be mean or rude or unkind or unfair. I think people are often motivated by a need, and are completely oblivious to how it feels to be treated that way. And yes, that is selfish. But ignorance is maybe easier to deal with than wilful malevolence.


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