My daughter and I decided to make a quick stop at the mall. It was mid-day on a weekday, with plenty of parking near the entrance. As it was a parking lot, there was no clear pedestrian route. You just park your car then walk inside, crossing several points of traffic.
We started across the busiest lane of traffic, which was perfectly clear. A beat-up car zipped around a corner, probably going at least 30 miles per hour. Even though we were already halfway across the road, the driver didn’t slow down. In fact, he veered toward us.
I gave my outraged gesture, understated by most standards. I turned the open palm of my hand to the sky, and leaned my head toward him, my body language for, “Are you kidding me?”
He slowed momentarily just to lean out the window to yell an explicative at us, then tell us to slow down. Once done insulting us, he increased his speed to probably three times the acceptable speed for any parking lot.
His actions were ludicrous — expecting pedestrians to run for their lives when he arrived on the scene. Telling a mom and a daughter who were walking leisurely to slow down. Yelling insults at us for expressing that we didn’t want to be run over by his car. And continuing putting other people’s lives in peril to prove his point.
I was mildly shaken and seriously incensed, but recovered within a minute or two. I ran through scenarios in my mind, wondering if I had any grounds to locate his car, take a photo of the license plate and call the police. Yet his actions made me think that doing so would be dangerous.
My daughter was terrified. She wanted to abandon our fun plan, and return to the safety of our home. I told her we weren’t going to let some mean dude keep us from doing what we wanted, so we shopped for a few minutes.
She didn’t want to talk about it. It was scary, and if one were to take his insults to heart, it might have been embarrassing and hurtful.
But on the way home, I tried to put his behavior into perspective. I started from the viewpoint of compassion — that people who misbehave in such ways often have a chip on their shoulders.
I speculated that maybe he’d grown up in a family that said mean things to him. Perhaps he felt unsatisfied with his opportunities in life. He seemed to need to exert power and be hurtful. That kind of behavior comes from a place of hurt.
But the perspective of compassion only goes so far. He was clearly angry, and anger is dangerous. Could a kind word or smile from us make a difference in his life? Possibly. Or it could simply open us up as targets. I advised her to pay attention to cues of other people’s anger, and steer clear.
I think of the “walk up, not out” movement. Putting the “blame” for school shootings on the kids surrounding the shooters themselves, and the responsibility for fixing the trouble on classmates, who had every right to fear their angry peer.
As much as I believe that kindness and compassion can change the world, it’s also important to recognize when we’re in the path of a raging bull — and to safely remove ourselves from that path.
Those with unchecked anger don’t care about logic, safety or who’s in their path. Anger controls its host. And it’s not the responsibility of innocent bystanders.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org