Friday, 5:52 pm: I was just in Penn Station (NYC) waiting in line to buy a ticket for NJ Transit at a ticket machine. While in line, a man came up behind me with a friend and he started (pretty loudly) telling his friend how much he hates lines because of how stupid people are. “So now we have to wait while they try to figure out how to use their credit cards, stick them in the slot, oh it doesn’t work this way, let’s try another way,” and on and on. Fine. I hate lines as much as the next person. I’ve spent my fair share of time when I was younger waiting in lines to buy a train ticket with a similar inner monologue thinking, “seriously, if I don’t catch this train because this person can’t figure out how to use the machine!”
So I get it, no one likes waiting. But the lady in front of me got up to the machine and it had to clear from the previous person’s transaction so she kept touching the screen waiting for it to start. Cue the guy behind me telling his friend, “See, she can’t even figure out how to touch it to make it start. C’mon,” then started making some sort of mocking handicapped noises to make fun of her. This is a grown man I’m talking about here, talking to another grown man. At least 45-years old. Now it takes a lot to get me actually mad, and I mean a lot. But for some reason this made me upset enough to turn around and tell him to try to be a little nicer and that he didn’t have to be so rude. In reality it wasn’t even the lady’s fault, it was the machine itself that was slow, he had just assumed she was incompetent because… I don’t know, she wasn’t him?
He could’ve responded to me turning around with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I was just making a joke.” No, instead his response was, “I am never nice.” At that point his friend looked mortified, as he should have been. “Never being nice,” is not something to brag about. He then continued with “I commute every day,” to which I responded that so do other people, and that’s not an excuse to be rude. Maybe this lady actually was handicapped. Handicapped people are allowed to take public transportation, and buy tickets at machines. Maybe she was blind; she would still be allowed to use the machine too. He didn’t care what her story was. I told him he didn’t have to be so rude in public, and maybe keep that to a private conversation, and I think at that point he called me stupid or something and then proceeded to tell his friend how he’s “been in NYC for 5 years and cannot f*cking wait” until he gets to leave (as a side note, no one is asking you to stay here, with that attitude, sir. Most New Yorkers, contrary to our bad rap, are not so dang rude).
Just earlier that day, I went to a training on “secondary trauma stress.” This can happen when you’re in a “helping profession,” particularly one like my organization which deals with representing children that are victims of trauma. As a result, it can apparently lead to feelings of “helplessness,” or “desensitization,” and feeling like everyone in the world is bad, because of all the awful things seen on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy to become cynical and bitter because you just deal with the bad in people rather than the good. What can also result, is taking this stress/frustration/anger out on a child client, or a coworker, or your family or friends, or anyone in your path really.
For example, if you follow “Humans of New York” on Facebook, there was recently a post that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.
This made me realize (or perhaps recall) that each child that comes into my job, or that is out and about in the world, they don’t know why an adult is stressed or angry or upset. Children are not stupid, they can perceive how adults are acting and feeling. Children can sense our frustrations, though they don’t necessarily know why we are that way. Because well let’s face it, the world can be pretty awful and life happens as you get older. But it’s not an acceptable excuse to take it out on the undeserving. The difference is children can’t control how adults act, but we as adults can change how we act ourselves. We don’t need to be grumpy, we don’t need to take things out on each other. What we need is to make an active effort to not let it affect them – those who didn’t ask to be brought down today, those who have found a way to smile today. We need to not use our feelings to take others down, because it can and does affect others.
I’m not saying put on a poker face necessarily, but just remember that strangers don’t know what you’re going through just like you don’t know what others could be going through. So as you would not like to be judged, don’t judge. As you would appreciate a little compassion once in awhile, share the same. We could all be having bad days, but helping someone else can not only improve that person’s day but yours as well, because you can start a positive chain reaction. If someone is making you late, or whatever the agitation is, just remember that they could be going through hell right now, and you don’t know how much it took for them to even get out of bed and to be waiting in line – you don’t know their story. So start thinking less about how things affect you, and think about how you could be affecting others. You being negative could truly bring someone who is having a bad day to tears, while you being kind could be the highlight of their day.
My point is: No, no matter what is going on in your life or at your job or in your brain, you should make a conscious effort to channel it in healthier ways than taking anger out at other people, particularly those who in no way deserve it. Keep your negative and judgmental thoughts to yourself, or confide in someone privately, or talk to a professional, or write it down, or become a comedian and channel it that way. Whatever you do, you should not need to mock strangers in public for a kick because that gives you some sick pleasure to embarrass an old lady in public, for example. Show some compassion. We’re all in the same exact boat at the end of the day.
On the flipside: hold people accountable. “If you see something, say something.” Don’t be afraid to stand up for someone who maybe can’t stand up for themselves. Show people that there is actually good in the world. Because someone giving someone else a negative experience, can harden that person, and create a chain that way. If someone is victimized, a potential reaction is the “f*ck it attitude,” as I like to call it, because who cares about other people if they don’t care about you. And this can create a domino effect of people being out for themselves, taking anger out on others, running everyone’s day. I was on the A train the other day with my boyfriend and there was a guy, heavily intoxicated on some substance, rambling and laughing and staring towards something on my side of the car. I couldn’t figure out what he was so bothered by but a woman sitting a few seats down from him, who was facing me, started looking at me and shaking her head with a look like, “I’m seriously done with this guy.”
Turns out there was a young gay couple next to me holding hands and this guy was talking smack ranting about how they should go to a desert island so he no one would have to see their PDA in public, how they were so gross, etc. This lady was not having it. She leaned over to the couple and said to “ignore what that guy was saying,” she didn’t want them on an island, and liked them right where they were, “just don’t listen to him.” Anyway, she got off the train eventually and life proceeded on. But I was glad she said something to them, to let them know that not everyone is an a**hole, and that fact is 100% something worth vocalizing. She turned that negative experience into a positive one.
It’s one thing to harbor these feelings, that people spewing hatred should just quit it, but it is a very different thing to speak up for someone, for a stranger, to remind people that there is good in the world and we do owe something to each other – decency, respect, kindness, compassion. Even just as strangers, as random passersby in each other’s lives – we owe that to each other. All it takes is a little bit of effort, and that effort can go a very long way. Be aware of those around you, and the struggle that everyone could possibly be going through. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt, a.k.a. the “B of the D.” If you find yourself passing judgment, or getting irritated, check yourself and give that person the B of the D. You have bad days. Everyone has bad days. So try to be patient, be kind. Imagine it was your mother, or father, or brother, or sister, or cousin, or best friend, and give them that extra bit of patience or kindness – because at the end of the day, and whether you like it or not, that is in fact what we are to each other.