When You See Something Inappropriate In “Real Life,” Here’s How To Intervene (Without Putting Yourself In Danger)
So, I’m at the coffee shop, and a man and a woman are having a heated debate.
The man was me. The woman was my friend Terri. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that’s part of the fun.
Then, some lady interrupted us…
Lady: “Are you okay? Is he bothering you?”
At this point, I had to laugh.
Terri laughed too.
I’m loud. She’s loud. I totally understand why someone would think we were having an actual argument. However, we weren’t.
AND WHAT ABOUT ME?
What if I’m in the innocent dude at the coffee shop and Terri was a zombie trying to eat my brains?
WHO’S GOING TO HELP ME?
WHY AM I AUTOMATICALLY THE BAD GUY?
I admire when people stand up for other people. And I believe we need to do more of it.
ESPECIALLY IN THE REAL WORLD.
Screw this social media garbage. See something. DO SOMETHING.
Just a few weeks ago, I saw an argument between two women on a subway. One woman was right. The other was dead wrong.
Lady #1: “Mind if I sit there?”
Lady #2: “My bag is there”
Lady #1: “Well, put your bag on the floor.”
Lady #2: “I never do that.”
This was interesting, I thought. Putting your bag on a seat on the subway is a real dick move.
So, naturally I offered my seat to Lady #1 and let her sit where I was sitting. Because why not.
Then, something crazy happened.
At the next stop, another lady approached the same lady and asked to sit down.
Lady #3: “May I sit there?”
Lady #2: “Sure.”
Lady #1: “I wonder why she wouldn’t let me sit there? Maybe she didn’t like the color of my shirt?”
It wasn’t that.
The first lady was a black woman.
Apparently Racism is alive and well… even in NYC.
I HAD TO SAY SOMETHING.
If I sat back and watched, I’d be just as bad as everyone else.
So I said something.
I wasn’t particularly nice. The evidence was overwhelming. But it had to be said. “Wow. Really? That’s screwed up.”
And the racist got off the subway at the very next stop. Hopefully she hung her head in shame and changes her ways. I won’t hold my breath.
But what I found interesting was this…
A ton of people witnessed what happened. I’m the only person who gave up their seat. I’m also the only person who said something.
IN AGGRESSIVE NEW YORK CITY.
The problem is that most people don’t know how to say something. And when they do, they do it the wrong way.
Let’s go back to original point of the story.
Terri and I were arguing. A lady interrupted. “Are you okay? Is he bothering you?”
She said something.
Good on her.
The way she approached the altercation was divisive. It immediately created a “him” vs “her” atmosphere, and even though she was hoping to “save” someone, her actions could create a bigger problem.
We must stand up for what’s right during the heat of the moment.
But we also must realize that in the heat of the moment our number one goal isn’t what we believe is happening. Our number one goal is to ensure the safety of people who we believe are in danger.
So, what could she have said instead?
She could have approached it like this…
Lady: “You two are passionate! Is everything okay here?”
Do you see the small difference?
Her first comment assumes “bad guy” vs “good guy.” This, instead, shows genuine concern without making any assumptions about what’s happening. It also doesn’t pit the people arguing against one another.
This is a much better way to approach it without “throwing fuel on the fire.”
But you can actually do one better.
When people are arguing in public, they’re often focused on one another. They forget people around them are there too. Sometimes all you need to do is distract people from the argument at hand.
Imagine if she interrupted our argument and said…
Lady: “Hey, it’s my first time here. But where’s the sugar? I see this and this, but where is this…”
At this point, one of us would have answered the question. She could have then followed up with…
Lady: “Ha ha. I’m so blind sometimes.”
This is important.
The distraction is often enough to de-escalate a heated argument. It gives people a pause. It’s like shooting a fire extinguisher at a fire.
Now, of course it’s not guaranteed. But sometimes a short “time out” is often enough to de-escalate a public argument.
Did you ever see the video about the guy who stopped a subway fight by eating a snack?
They called him “SNACK MAN.”
But long story short: a girl and a guy were fighting on the subway. It was getting aggressive. This guy inserted himself between the guy and the girl as if nothing was happening and just continued eating his chips.
He didn’t acknowledge the fight.
He didn’t say anything.
He didn’t make eye contact.
He just continued doing what he was doing and physically inserted himself between the two people fighting. And kept eating his snack.
And the fight ended.
Now, he could have stepped in and said, “Hey miss. Is he bothering you?” But would that have done anything?
Probably not. It would probably have made it worse. The guy who was already heated would assume he was taking her side and potentially channel his aggression on a new target, thus putting the innocent bystander in danger as well as the woman. But he didn’t do that. He distracted the people and the argument all but came to a stop.
And that’s why I prefer this strategy.
If you see someone in a potentially dangerous situation, you might be quick to insert yourself the same way the lady did to me and my friend at the coffee shop.
And that’s fine. At least you did something about it.
But if your number one goal is to ensure the safety of people, you’re much better off distracting the people in the argument.
The added benefit?
You won’t be making a judgment about someone elses’ disagreement with imperfect information. So, you’ll be doing the right thing from all angles as opposed to assuming you know all the facts and who in fact “needs help.”