Though of greatest concern is the dying of our environment, countless species, and eventually — humankind — that is not the specific fear I’m referring to which prompted this blog post. I’m not referring to the dying due to the horror of gun violence in America, or the dying of our democracy due to the state of this country’s politics. What I’m referring to is the very thing which is at the root of these and many other terrifying realities throughout the world — the dying of decency.
The lack of decency that has become apparent in virtually every facet of life has been increasing exponentially for decades now, and what’s the most frightening is — it continues to grow, certainly exponentially over the past few years. This is an infection-carrying snowball that has been rolling down a very steep mountain of human behavior, gaining in size and momentum as it heads toward a snow-packed ridge of abhorrent conduct which will avalanche, having the potential to obliterate virtually all remnants of goodness and civility.
I want to share an anecdote of the incident that compelled me to write this:
It happened last week when, on a small excursion to a local zoo for a much-needed little “hit” of lighthearted animal fun, I and my boyfriend, Mark, experienced a different kind of hit. To begin with, he has issues with paranoia which have only worsened with things like mass shootings, so attempting any outdoor venture is always a big deal. Typically, if the parking lot is too full, we pass and head home. The weather was beautiful and it was already early afternoon, so we weren’t confident that school being in session was going to positively affect crowd control. We were right. The parking lot was pretty full and there was only one handicap spot available; any other open spots were a long walk. It being months since he’d been out of the house, Mark decided we would try; if it was too much for him, we’d leave. So I proceeded to park.
I back into parking spots whenever I can because it’s less treacherous pulling out facing forward compared to backing out. After all, certainly in this area of the country, people regularly behave poorly in parking lots (and on the streets), bullying to all different degrees, both drivers and pedestrians. For good reason, it has become a constant source of stress for me in recent years. The SUV next to the open spot was parked on the line rather than centered properly. I still wanted to stay centered within the blue lines of my spot, but Mark said he couldn’t get out of the car. I said I guessed I had to park over the line on the area between the two handicap spots, so I pulled forward then repositioned the car to leave him ample room to get out. He went to open the door and said, “Whoa. She’s moving, hon.” I said I didn’t even know she was in the car; there had been no movement around the SUV even from when we were several spots away, eyeing the one open spot and deliberating whether or not to stay.
The driver, having turned her wheels sharply to pull into her spot when she arrived, neglected to straighten them before getting out of her SUV. Now, as she backed out, she proceeded to move with her front wheels still turned sharply so we inevitably heard the excruciating crunching and scraping of her large vehicle as it dragged against the side of my car. Mark and I looked at each other in disbelief and voiced such. Her having hit my car, she stopped and we watched her pull forward, now trying to straighten when she realized what she’d done
(note: you can see in the photo her front wheel is still somewhat turned). Parked again, she looked down at me through the window with a “what happened?!” look on her face — as if she didn’t know. Mannequin-like, she held this expression for at least five seconds while I looked back incredulously, and realized she was going to play dumb. This infuriated me immediately. Very unfortunately for me, this was not the first time an unscrupulous guilty party has tried to turn the tables against me; the sorry truth is that bullying takes shape in many forms, it is most definitely not restricted to playgrounds, and I seem to attract these types like a magnet. Me also worrying about how Mark was handling this, I got out of the car to see if there was any damage.
There was no actual dent and looked to be just white surface scratches (car wax). Her “fender” had three little 1-inch surface scratches also. This was not actual damage to either car, her having been moving so slowly; it could just be rubbed off and compounded if necessary. There were no apparent scratches to the paint, certainly not on her car, and with my car being 20 years old, I figured if there were nicks I could just touch them up if I had to. This was not an “insurance” situation so I was relieved on that level.
“What happened? You hit my car.”
“Well, you were moving,” she said, with a defensive posture. Her words reaffirmed her mannequin expression; she was going to try to blame me. She was now flat out lying.
“Noooo. I was parked.”
“So you’re telling me that when I look at my mirror cam, it’s not going to show you were moving,” now very accusatory.
“No. I was parked!”
She knew when I was fully parked which was when she started moving, and seeing as she was also relying on her “cam,” she knew twofold. She insisted again and I affirmed again. I figured now with her lying I was going to have to take a picture of how the cars were positioned. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of snapping one of her license plate; this was not an insurance-worthy situation, but her self-preserving nature and inability to take responsibility was making it a “thing.” It is also not my nature to think with the quickness and cleverness of accusation which, as this wore on, became increasingly evident it was something at which she was very adept.
She took her time getting out of her SUV (I realized later she was prepping), she checked the scrape on my car, and smiled seeing it was only surface. At that point it should’ve been a simple “I’m sorry” and it would’ve been over with, but when I walked to her she again insisted my car was moving.
I stepped forward, pointed at her, and she having brought my nerves to a boil, strongly stated, “Don’t you f*****g accuse me of doing something I didn’t do.”
“Don’t curse in front of my kids.”
“Kids? What kids?”
I turned to look into her SUV and saw only blackness. “I don’t see any kids.” We were at a zoo, so I believed her. I had no reason not to, but they weren’t at all visible. Of course, if I knew there were kids around I wouldn’t have been inclined to curse and felt bad children had to be witness to any of this nonsense. I shook my head and got back to the situation at hand.
“You don’t care about cursing in front of children?”
I shook my head again, not in answer to her question, but in that I wasn’t going to let her go there since at that moment it was not the priority. I was much more concerned about her false accusations than children hearing one unfortunate curse word. She asked me if I was a mother. I said I was a grandmother. She said again, “And you don’t care about cursing in front of kids?” as if this was the big concern, not her accusing me of causing this “accident” instead of her. She was very quick to jump on this side issue to deflect from the real situation in the effort to make me appear like the “bad guy” in whatever way she could, but I still wasn’t going to let her continue.
I ignored her deflection, moved closer to her, pointed at her again and very directly said, “Don’t you dare accuse me of something I didn’t do.”
“That’s it. I’m calling the police!”
“What?” I was shocked, though shouldn’t have been.
She then said her son recorded the whole thing (which shows where her mind was from the beginning and looking back on it, she was actually setting me up, hoping for something to happen).
“You’re kidding me, right?” I could not believe this woman’s behavior.
“That’s right. I’m calling the police.” And she got back into her car. To say this was exasperating doesn’t cover it. My blood pressure and stress level were through the roof needlessly because this woman wouldn’t own up to her being at fault with something as inconsequential as surface scratches.
Incredulously I said, “Call whoever you want,” got back in my car and started ranting to Mark (who’d heard every word anyway) about how underhanded and “crazy” this woman was being, and said I really don’t need this over something that didn’t cause any real damage. I told him I was going to tell her that even though she hit my car, it’s 20 years old, it wasn’t dented and that we should just drop it, that it wasn’t worth it. I was going to let her off the hook and just wanted this insanity behind me. Here Mark and I just wanted an hour communing with animals and nature and instead got interaction with a human behaving beastly.
I again got out of my car, went to her window and motioned for her to lower it, saying we should have a civilized conversation. I could see her texting on her phone, she opened her window, I hadn’t spoken yet and she started yelling at me, saying I was harassing her.
“Harassing you? Are you kidding me?” She brought her window back up and I’m sure the expression on my face clearly showed my escalating disbelief. I wanted to simply convey the “let’s drop it” message, so again asked her to lower her window. She brought it down again, I tried to speak, but she again immediately went off on me about cursing in front of her kids, and I said I still didn’t see them. She said, “They’re there. Just look,” and she pointed toward the backseat. It’s not that I didn’t believe there were kids there, but when she directed me, I tried to peer in without actually sticking my head in the car. The blackened windows were so effective — and on a virtually cloudless day — it was like looking into the darkness of a moonless night; I could see absolutely nothing behind her seat. (To me, these windows should be outlawed. This can camouflage dangerous situations for anyone, including the police.)
“Step back from the car! I’m calling the police! Don’t you dare leave!” She said this while repeatedly raising and lowering the window 6 inches, and continuing to text.
She again partially lowered the window, and repeated she was calling the police (she still hadn’t). That’s when I heard her son, from directly behind her say, “Mom…” and she told him to be quiet. He sounded to be at least 12 years old, so he was very cognizant of the reality of what happened from the moment she scraped my car and his tone was that of wanting to talk sense to her. (Why wasn’t a kid that age still in school?) I sincerely wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell her she was so overly concerned about me saying one curse word, but not concerned about her being a parental example of lying, falsely accusing an innocent person, and then behaving like an irrational lunatic.
I still wanted to state my intentions, but she refused to lower the window and said she could hear me. I wasn’t about to start screaming through it and could only shake my head because I couldn’t — and still can’t — believe what this woman was doing.
The entire time she was texting on her phone, she even took a picture of me (which I think someone instructed her to do because it was so sudden). That prompted me to take one of her (which I did get through the window in which you could clearly see my parked car and boyfriend, which was from her point of view and no, for her privacy, I’m not posting it), then she kept putting her hand up every time I moved the phone, her never ceasing to text. Her actions, from parking improperly to that moment had caused all that transpired, but she was trying to cause me trouble, her having pretended from the onset that I was at fault. Between my blood pressure and nerves, I didn’t need a stroke from what this woman just did, and my already-paranoid boyfriend now had added anxiety and fuel for increased paranoia all due to this ridiculously irrational woman so — I let it go. I have no doubt that, had Mark and I not been sitting in the car when she hit it, she would’ve just taken off. I sincerely wish we hadn’t witnessed it because her indecent behavior did much more damage to me, my boyfriend and her children than to my car.
What was at the core of this entire altercation was that lack of decency I mentioned — the thing that prompted this post. It was this woman’s inability to accept responsibility for a simple mistake, and her “me first” need to place blame on an innocent party regardless of how wrong that was, that created an incident which could have been avoided. Of course, had she not hastily gotten out of her car without straightening her front wheels in the first place after pulling into the parking spot, she would have avoided the whole thing to begin with. BUT, that not being the case, had she owned up to her mistake and said, “I’m sorry,” she would’ve been “forgiven” by a woman who would’ve said, “It’s only surface scratches, no damage, these things happen,” and we both could’ve gone on our merry ways.
I was so angered, this haunted me continuously for over a day. It consumed my thoughts and even when I was trying to concentrate on other things, it was there, incessantly poking at me. The more I ran the string of events through my mind, along with the cooling hours separating me from the heated exchange, I was able to conclude several things, including lessons learned. Thus — this post.
First, though the trajectory of this began with this woman operating from a wrongful, self-serving posture, I think there may have actually been a genuine spark of her feeling threatened, irrational as that reaction was when you consider the small figure I am and I most certainly wasn’t armed with more than words. Lesson about human behavior learned.
Second, if I wasn’t inclined to curse when in angered situations, this opportunistic person wouldn’t have had the ammunition to deflect or try to use it against me. Yes, she still would’ve been lying to blame me, but wouldn’t have had that “cursing” road to go down. That is the one negative action I regret. Lesson about my behavior learned. But — would I ever be able to keep myself from becoming angered should this happen again? Highly unlikely — not when being wrongly accused. I have no tolerance for injustice of any kind as it is, and this happens too often.
Over the course of hours past, my anger gave way to becoming troubled. No, not so much over the car and the unnecessary stress I’m so tired of people causing me, but over more and more people spiraling down to the mentality that too often makes it impossible for people to reason with each other. Instead there is almost constant confrontation over the small and not-so-small issues. The knee-jerk pre-judging, the misperceptions, mostly between strangers, but even with people we know, yet don’t necessarily see clearly due to misperception. When I realized that this woman may have actually processed me, this little 5-foot-nothing older woman rightfully shaking a finger in anger at her accusation, as threatening, I became more distraught than outraged. Distraught not just by the ever-increasing lack of decency, but by the ever-diminishing ability of people to behave or think as rational rather than irrational human beings, lacking all measure of common sense and reality when judging people or situations. Cases like this are becoming more and more the “norm” rather than the exception. Yes, I do fear what the future is likely to bring.
I would think that, generally speaking, this “parking lot” woman is a good mother (though I suspect “bulldozer” behavior), but in matters like this I feel for her children. And as angry as I’ve been over what she caused through her self-serving actions, I feel for her too in the respect that, although I think her motive to make me look bad/wrong was the driving force, her bizarre reaction to my justified anger spurred her to also think and behave irrationally.
Do I think her extreme posturing was for show? Partially, yes. But I also concluded there seemed to be some measure of irrational “fear.” I mean me? Threatening harm to someone? And especially to children?! It’s beyond absurd. It’s not in my nature, and anyone who knows me knows that. I would have to be defending myself from physical attack. And besides — I always leave payback for wrongdoers to God’s discretion.
My fears are not new and I know I am not alone in this. Many of us fear the decline of decency and rationality we are witnessing throughout humankind, not just for ourselves, but more for our loved ones and what the future will hold in store. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been continuously concerned for decades now and feel the burden of helplessness with most of these issues being out of our control.
I know there are those who believe mankind can fix its own problems. All evidence is to the contrary. I believe this is a snowball too big and rolling too fast to veer off its path, so the infection of indecency continues to spread, plaguing humankind in the most devastating ways. We can hope for a cure (I have my own belief as to what that will be), but as with any other plague, the most we can do is strengthen our own behavioral immune systems and do our best to lend a healing hand to whomever we are able with words and actions of encouragement and decency. We must equip ourselves, and most importantly — our children and grandchildren — as best we can to be shielded from the harmful effects of this hideous disease.
(As an aside: these things long having been issues and concerns for me, I’ve written poems related: “The Crime of Cruelty” (bullying) and “A Lesson Learned” (humankind’s destructive nature) should you be interested.)
The stresses in life are often relentless, and with all the indecency in the world, it is the decent side of mankind we must latch onto to stay afloat. It’s why I grab whatever uplifting moments I can. Moments like those experienced at the Princeton Book Festival, that which is the polar opposite of what I just described; a day filled with decency, joy and some of the best in human behavior 🙂 THAT post will be coming soon!
I have no doubt you also have experienced indecent — and decent — human behavior. Please feel free to share (respectfully) any anecdotes or thoughts, and how you’ve handled them. I want to hear! Especially those of decent behavior. I think we can all use to hear more of instances that can help us keep faith in at least some faction of humanity 🙂