Sometimes things get screwed up. You plan on a sunny day and it rains. You want a laptop for your birthday and you get a vacuum. You think you’re dog’s well behaved enough to leave out of the crate and he eats your favorite pair of shoes. Shit happens. It’s not always someone’s fault and it’s not always repairable, but life goes on.
Which is why I’m always confused when I get a phone call from an unhappy, pissed-off person who thinks that yelling at me will solve the problem. Wrong. And, I mean, they have to know that on some level. I am not the Queen of the Universe nor am I She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. The best you’ll get from me is an “I’m sorry” and maybe a promise not to do it again.
But lately I feel that people don’t want apologies or excuses. They want to yell at someone, stomp their feet, threaten physical violence, make a scene. Since those are the things guaranteed to make me either walk away or hang up, there must be some other reason why people use these tactics.
Remember when daytime television consisted of Jerry Springer, Maurice, Jenny, and Montel? For many of us, it was our first glimpse of people who didn’t follow the rules of polite society (well, the first glimpse of people out of diapers who didn’t follow the rules). Screaming, interrupting, throwing things, and fisticuffs were all part of the spirited debate. It got to the point where, even with closed captioning on, it was impossible to figure out what was being said as everyone yelled over one another.
When the yelling stopped, the physical fights began. We were introduced to press-on nails, weaves, and the concept of kicking off one’s shoes to signal a readiness to punch someone (though Jerry eventually added the dinging sound of a boxing match bell). We quickly went from expecting a fight, to demanding one.
Eventually, like Jimmy Choo shoes and Coach handbags, the rest of society coveted what they saw on television. If the former baby momma could lay hands on the current one, why couldn’t we take out our aggressions against the neighbor who always parked in our spot? If someone cut us off in traffic, why take that silently when we could chase them down and trade gunshots? Instead of a nation of polite discourse and problem solving, we became a nation of loud-mouthed wannabe gangsters and thugs.
And then it was only a hop, skip, and jump til we got to the point where yelling, threatening, and even physically assaulting people became commonplace. Fights don’t need to be settled with words when fists and guns are available. In Kentucky, a 12-year-old boy was shot in the back after playing ding-dong-ditch at the home of a 56-year-old with a shotgun. McDonald’s drive thru patrons assault the occupants of the car in front of them when the line doesn’t move fast enough. Someone cut you off at the deli counter? Ram their cart and tell them what you think of them.
We are no longer afraid or ashamed to raise our voice or our fists as a first response. And that’s not a good thing. Because aggressive behavior doesn’t help, it only shuts down the conversation.
So I challenge you the next time you’re in the express lane and the person in front of you has more than the allotted number of items, be quiet. The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, keep your hands on the wheel rather than on the horn. The next time a scared fifteen year old screws up your McDonald’s order, take a step back and suck it up. There’s no rule that says we have to go over the top. We can become polite, courteous human beings again. It’s really not hard as long as we’re willing to act like adults rather than pissy-panted toddlers.
And who knows, maybe you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.