Monday, September 22, 2008

Dear the Self-Centered and Rude

This isn't exactly a sports piece, although I guess you could say it is combat-sports-related. But one of the reasons I write is for catharsis and that isn't necessarily limited to one theme. True - almost all of the posts have been and will be about sports. Also true - no one seems to read them so who cares if I'm not totally consistent. If a theme is broken in empty cyberspace, will anyone notice? I say no.

Onward - it has gotten to a point where I think we seriously need to consider legalizing a limited amount of reasonable violence to settle certain disputes. I say this because of a scene I participated in while at the bank today.

I frequently use a drive-thru ATM at the Wells Fargo near my apartment. There is a 2-car lane that connects a public parking lot with a public street. Both lanes pass underneath an awning, at which point they are separated by a 3-foot wide concrete support. The left lane passes next to the ATM while the right lane does not and is meant as a conduit. The 2 lanes must cross a sidewalk before entering the street and there is just enough room between the sidewalk and ATM for one car to use the ATM while a second waits for pedestrian traffic to clear before entering the street.

Today, as I pulled in behind another car that had just pulled up to the ATM, there was a Porsche waiting for pedestrian traffic to clear (or so I thought) on the left side while another car had pulled up alongside it on the right. I could hear a string of expletives exchanged, but figured it was Monday afternoon rush hour so that was about right, even in SF. The car on the right drove away at which time I realized that the Porsche was actually parked in the left lane.

Now, the lady in front of me was taking her time and we (the lady and I) both pulled up after the Porsche had been parked there for a while (apparently long enough to provoke the exchange of expletives) so I figured he'd be gone before the lady finished her transaction. Wrong. He was still there when she finished so she was blocked in. Having just witnessed the heated exchange, she understandably decided to ask me to move, which I happily did.

I reversed enough to let her out but realized she wasn't moving. The guy in the Porsche was standing up in his passenger seat and berating her - yelling that the ATM was broken (though it now worked for us) and they would be blocking the way regardless had it been working. Remember, the lady had not said a word to this guy, she had asked me to move.

This was too much for me. Here was a guy who was sitting in a car that had blocked off one lane of a public thoroughfare. He could have gotten out and used a standard ATM while the driver (his girlfriend or wife) circled the block. They could have parked in a thousand other places that would have bothered no one, but would have required walking an extra 30 yards. Instead, they were too lazy and/or inconsiderate to pursue these options and now this mouth had the perverse audacity to curse out anyone he inconvenienced. Plus, this was some innocent lady who hadn't even said a word to him despite having every right do just that. I threw my truck in park and jumped out to enter the fray.

Now, it's difficult to get me really worked up and that's good. I am 6'3", 210 lbs., and have been known to do substantial and indiscriminate damage when adequately provoked, which is very rare. But this guy had me in the red. We had our own intellectual discourse that was peppered with profanity and, when it was clear he was not receptive to verbal reasoning, I resorted to a more visceral logic. I took off my sunglasses, looked him in the eye, and told him to calm the &*%! down because I was losing what little patience I had for egocentric, rude jackasses who mistakenly thought it was the World's responsibility to make their lives as convenient and pleasant as possible no matter the personal expense. I may not have been that eloquent. He got the implication and was soon backpedalling, apologizing for getting too excited.

Here's the great part though. I felt I had gotten through and the driver had returned so I had calmed a little and was returning to my truck. As soon as I was safely out of range and the key hit the Porsche's ignition, he threw a last "&*%! you" at me and they drove off.

And that is the thing - the entire spectacle had zero impact on that guy. Tomorrow, confronted with the same situation, he will do the exact same thing. This may seem like a small thing, but there is any interesting concept that we can borrow from racial studies. It is the idea that small, seemingly trivial insults and indignities accumulate over time. Eventually, they can provoke a permanent attitudinal change and/or single, catastrophic response. I am not a minority so I don't know if this is a valid analogy, but I think it is.

If it is, the freedom we give individuals like Mr. Porsche may very well be the real reason behind the decline in our civilization. We expect and demand tolerance for individuals who behave as rudely and profanely as possible and with total disregard for other people so long as they stay within the bounds of legality. These encompass a substantially larger, more repugnant spectrum of behavior than those of decency and are explored to their limits.

Even worse, the "enlightened" carte blanche condemnation of even minor acts of violence perpetuates and further erodes the level of behavior. I am not arguing that I should have been allowed to take a tire iron to the guy's head and should be allowed to do so whenever I feel someone has been rude. That would obviously be a far worse state of affairs.

However, what I am arguing is that, had Mr. Porsche thought that getting clipped in the jaw was a realistic consequence of parking where he did or spewing the kind of venom he was spewing, he would have thought twice and the world would be a happier, more pleasant place for it. I am also arguing that, because this scenario is almost totally unrealistic in our current society, Mr. Porsche has no reason behave differently. If he does not care about inconveniencing others and is not threatened by verbal confrontation and has done nothing illegal, there is simply no reason to put the interests - even far more legitimate ones - of others above his.

That is what it boils down to - should we tolerate individuals like Mr. Porsche and the selfish gutter into which they are dragging us? Or should we tolerate individuals like Mr. Porsche getting clocked every now and then when they step too far out of line? I vote for the latter and realize I'm in the minority. I realize this because, had I stomped that guy out, I would have been the bad guy and liable. I realize this because it was the only thought stopping me from doing just that.

But eventually our behavior will devolve to a level that demands some sort of drastic action be taken. I think we're already there.

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