“You’re an F-ing idiot,” he screamed at the woman, who was obviously frightened at the explosiveness of his outburst. Concerned with neither the woman nor how he appeared to others he screamed the words at her over and over again, gesturing fiercely and menacing in his posture.
The scene played out in the parking lot of a nearby supermarket in plain view of others. The man did not care. It was clear that he wanted everyone around to know that the object of his anger was an “F-ing idiot.” My wife Lisa was witness to the outburst, the man’s words impacting her as she exited her car. She was stunned to see that the recipient of the man’s wrath was an elderly woman who was fearfully standing next to her parked car. Shocked at the intensity of his rage, Lisa waited before going into the store, fearful that the man might do something rash.
As the man continued his repetitive insults Lisa was unable to remain silent. Hoping that the awareness that others were listening would give him pause, and to let the woman know she was not alone, she said, “Excuse me?”
The man turned to her but his anger did not diminish. My wife became a secondary target. He had F-bombs to spare and was apparently willing to hurl them at anyone who did not agree with him. Lisa found herself plotting escape routes if he approached and pondering whether to dial 911.
In the course of the man’s diatribe he revealed the terrible deed the elderly woman had done, the heinous act that caused him to respond so viciously. The woman had stopped her car and waited in the lane as another woman prepared to back out of a parking spot. Mr. Angry was one of those who had to either wait several seconds for the parked car to exit or drive around her.
That was it. A momentary delay in the parking lot. The loss of a few moments of time were enough for the man to unleash his fury, enough for an elderly woman to be publicly derided as an F-ing idiot.
When Lisa shared this story with me we both marveled at the man’s lack of decency. The elderly woman may have been overly cautious in her driving, she may have made a wrong decision and she may have caused others to waste a minute or two. None of those acts made her deserving of public scorn, none had any bearing on her value as a person. It was clear to us that the man’s problem wasn’t just that he didn’t respect the woman, it was that he didn’t respect people. That absence of baseline respect allowed him to attack others for their mistakes, to condemn them for minor slights.
As we talked I thought of how more and more people are becoming like Mr. Angry, thinking only of themselves without regard for the feelings of others. So many people have forgotten the truth that every person, even those who wrong us, is deserving of kindness and respect.
I don’t want to be like Mr. Angry. I want to be better, speak better and think better. I want to view others with respect, not just in parking lots, but even in the privacy of my mind. I intend to do this by working on avoiding derogatory labels for people, to cease with the name calling that is pervasive in our culture. From now on, if someone cuts me off on the freeway, leaves a bad Yelp review, or in any way offends me I resolve to no longer say, “Look what that idiot did!” or “What a jerk!”
I am going to try and say, “Look what that person did.” No adjective, no defamatory comments. I intend to aim my negative comments at actions, not people, to continually remind myself of the personhood of every man and woman I meet, regardless of the rightness of their actions. I want to remember that everyone is a child of God, that everyone has value. As I do my prayer is that my heart will soften, my anger will fade, and a kinder person will emerge over time.
I can’t change Mr. Angry, or the countless others like him, but I can change me, and I intend to.
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