Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Case Study in Communication; or, how I almost got beat up on Saturday

The scene: A sunny Saturday afternoon, with a mild offshore breeze. Golden Gardens Park, Seattle, Washington. A picnic lunch with my family and Leah, a friend and former youth group member from Turlock.

The Set-up: I was trying to teach Olivia how to fly a kite. The wind was perfect, but the lawns were full of people. We headed to the northern-most beach, which tends to have a smaller crowd; my fear being smashing somebody on the head should we crash the kite. We got the kite into the air, and, in order to keep away from two men on a log, I kept moving north as I let the kite line out. Soon I found myself standing about 15 feet away from a scruffy-looking man man sitting in the sand.

He: "You know, the wind is a lot better if you go over there" (pointing south).

Now, understand. This is where it all started. What he really meant was "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't fly your kite in front of me, as you are disrupting my view." But he used improper communication skills, employing a classic passive-aggressive approach.

Of course, I didn't catch that. I was truly intrigued by his statement, wondering if he knew something about kite flying and wind that I didn't.

So, me: "Really? What makes it better over there?"

And this is where things took off in a hurry. See, I asked the question in all innocence. But he, misreading me, heard "Shut up, I can fly my kite where I want to."

So this was his response: "It's better over there because you aren't flying your %#@#$# kite over people's heads!"

This catches me off guard, and I answer him: "Well, see, it's not over anybody's head. That's why I'm here - to keep it from flying over the heads of those guys over there."

At which point all hell breaks loose: "Shut the $%$%%$ up! You think you can come fly your #%#$#$ kite over here and ruin my day! I'm just trying to relax and you come here flying your (word that used to mean small bundle of sticks but now refers to homosexuals) kite over my head and ruin my day!"

Me, using my best conflict resolution skills: "Um, I'm sorry. Have I offended you?"

He: "Shut the #%#$ up! Shut the #$#@$# up! Get your $##$#$ kite and get out of my face!"

Now I'm slowly reeling the kite in, but that's going to take some time, so I'm stalling. And then I realize Olivia is right next to me. "Sir, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't talk like that in front of my daughter."

He, sarcastically: "Oh hello, my daughter." (back to me): "Just shut the #$#$ up! What makes you think you can fly your $%#$# kite over here?"

Me, now somewhat bemused by the whole situation: "Well, it is a public park, isn't it? It's a free park. I have the right to be here, just like you." Probably not the smartest thing to say.

He's now on his feet, coming slowly toward me. "Shut the $#$# up! Shut the #$#$# up! You and your #%#$# kite and your $%@# free park, thinking you can come ruin my day #@@##@! Shut the #$#$# up."

I look down the beach, about 50 yards away, and see Leah looking on,praying, which makes me glad. Oh, and Olivia has gone to join her.

One more thing you need to understand. The whole time, there's this calm conversation going on in my head, something along the lines of "this is odd. I wonder if he's going to attack me. I wonder how far I can push him? What should I do if he comes at me? Run? Dodge? Try to avoid him? I wonder how this is all going to work out?"

By this time he is ranting, calling me a #@#@# and a ^@##$, feigning sexual acts in my direction, insulting my kite, and the whole time, everybody within hearing distance is studiously ignoring the whole thing. And I finally say, "sir, I'm not going to speak with you anymore. I'm going to bring in my kite and leave."

"No! I'm leaving you #$#$# #$#$#! I'm getting my stuff and going away from you and your $#$#$# kite!"

He begins to walk away in a rage, then turns and heads back. "No," he shouts. "Come here! I want to show you something."

"Um, no. That's okay, I need to wind in my kite."

"No, you $@#@#@! Come here! I want to show you something."

But I'm smarter than that.

"No thanks. I'm going to stay here. I need to pull my kite in."

At which point he stormed off. Leah told me later that as he walked by them and headed down the trail, he was screaming and ranting and cussing the whole way.

And I stayed and flew the kite for another 3o minutes or so.

Now, one could wonder. Was he drunk? High? Demon-possessed? He looked like a homeless person. He was obviously an angry man, and I had the misfortune of stepping into his circle. I still wonder what I would have done had he actually come at me. But Leah told me she was ready - if he attacked, she was going to come to my rescue.

I still find it more amusing, than anything. And let this be a lesson to you all, showing how improper communication always leads to misunderstandings. And sometimes violence.

Bonus Case Study

So later that night, we were driving home, heading West on the 16 under the Burnham overpass. It was dark, but ahead of me I could see the taillights of a couple cars heading down the onramp to the freeway. It appeared they were racing. "A couple of teenagers out having a fun time," I assumed. I watched as the one in the rear attempted numerous times to jut around the front car and cut it off, only to have the front car swerve and speed up, maintaining his position.

They both took the 302 Exit toward Purdy, the same exit I was taking right behind them. As they reached the turning lane to go left across the Purdy Spit, the rear car made one more attempt to pass up the front car by going into oncoming traffic and passing on his left. Once more, the front car sped up and swerved over, thwarting the back car's attempts. "Foolish young men," I thought to myself.

We all came to a stop at the traffic light. The young man in the front car (turned out to be in his 20s) climbed out and walked to the car behind him, yelling at the driver through his window. I still assumed they knew each other. But then the 2nd driver stepped out of his car, and I could see that they were both very angry.

The man from the 2nd car shoved the 1st, pushing him to the ground.

"Call 911," I said

The man from the 1st car regained his footing, but by this time the 2nd man had retrieved a big stick from his car. He took a swing, smashing it into the 1st man's neck.

The phone wouldn't go through.

The 1st man, using some wisdom, got back into his car and drove quickly off. The 2nd man picked up his stick from the ground, jumped into his car, and tore off after the first. I gave them a little space, then followed along the highway.

Eventually we reached the police, and gave a report of what we had seen. And then we drove peacefully home.

Along the way, we found it an opportune time to speak with Olivia about anger, bullies, and why it's never a good thing to respond to a bully with violence or anger. I hate to think what would have happened if the 2nd guy had pulled out a gun. Especially since we were 10 feet away. So we shared with Olivia that, even if people are unfair or rude, it's best to remain calm and not respond, and to get away from them if possible.

She seemed to get it.

As for me, I just have to wonder. Was something in the air last Saturday?


Lori said...

Dan, just a note to say I'm glad you're still with us. Sometimes God answers prayer. Karina did good praying for you.

Kim said...

I remember being a victim of road rage. Apparently on the highway I pulled in front of another car a bit too closely - so he got mad and kept pulling in front of me on the highway and slamming on his brakes to a near stop every chance he got - I literlly had to drive like a maniac to get away from him - or at least stay in FRONT of him. This was before cell phones, and I was alone in my car...I was terrified. I finally made a last minute jog off an exit and he either didn't or wasn't able to follow me.

You never know with people, they just *snap* sometimes.

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