The elderly man glared at me as if I’d just said that Adolf Hitler had buttfucked his grandma.
“Do you live in this house? No? Well then, you can’t lean your bicycle on this wall!”
Many of you would breeze over this non-event in a jiffy and get on with your lives. But many of you — the introvert, the timid, the meek, the snowflakes (normally used pejoratively, but not here) — could easily let such an admonition ruin your day.
I’ve experienced so many days where I left home with a song in my heart, attributed perhaps to a combination of good weather, a positive impending event, kind words I’ve been told just before — just to have it all irreversibly (for the day) marred by a snide reprimand from a stranger.
These rebukes serve to “kindly” (not!) remind us that we’re not allowed to stand here with our vehicle; that our turn at the cashier’s has come, so why the hell aren’t we moving instead of playing with our phone; that we should walk faster or clear the way because someone behind us wants to pass; that we’re not supposed to put our feet on the seat; that we shouldn’t put a tiny piece of trash in a private bin that’s standing outside a house; and in general that we should follow every rule to the letter.
Why fret over this?
Assertive, confident, sociable people may find it strange that anyone should take such arbitrary, momentary reprehensions to heart. But for introverts, who choose their human interactions carefully and for whom each interaction is a hurdle, starting the day with such a negative reproof can be devastating.
Insecure people, who feel judged for everything they do, can easily be caught in a whirlpool of self-doubt when they are being bona fide judged, especially by a hostile stranger.
Things to remember on the path to oblivion
(Oblivion as in “I’m oblivious to what you just told me, you sad old woman. And what’s with this ridiculous hat?”)
Next time you’re confronted with such a situation, try to disappear and then return from around the corner to watch your stranger castigator.
For your convenience, I’ve done just that, so that you don’t have to. Here’s what I saw:
The anti-bicycle-leaner sat on a bench for the entire afternoon (I’m a patient clandestine observer), well until it was dark. Aside from scolding for a variety of reasons four other people that happened nearby, he hasn’t spoken to a single person. Several people his age who passed by and whom he clearly knew didn’t return his nods and greetings. Every few minutes he checked his phone for messages. There were none.
I could draw two small comforts from this:
First, that I wasn’t the only one in the world to be chided for frivolities. I was part of a community. This never fails to comfort me, in any walk of life.
Second, our cantankerous castigator was clearly a sad, lonely man. Criticizing others was seemingly his sole form of human interaction. This isn’t a “comfort” in the sense of “I’m happy that another person is lonely,” of course, but rather as “Now I know the underlying cause. The world is a little bit clearer to me.”
HT Social Investigations LLC: Going the Extra Mile for You
I delved deeper.
I followed several of the model citizens who publicly berated me, hoping to learn the ways of the righteous. But what have we here?
The no-feet-on-the-seat absolutist littered the bus station twice and jaywalked like there’s no tomorrow.
The time-pressed woman behind me at the supermarket queue later refused to free up her parking space, sitting in her car, swiping her phone while gazing indifferently at a queue of frustrated drivers.
The guy who shouted at me for sitting in my car at an inappropriate spot later got inside his own car, and within a five-minute drive stole two red lights, crossed a solid white line, and menacingly tailgated an old woman on a bicycle.
And there you have it. The song re-enters my heart, and I’m frolicking about with mirth and some glee too.
Modern life has too many rules for any single person to follow them all. If a cranky stranger lectures you for an alleged infringement, you might as well retort with “Back at you!”, without even knowing what she did. Because she did something.
If the logic here seems flimsy to you, and something like Two wrongs don’t make a right is creeping to the tip of your tongue — this is not the point. I’m not judging here what’s good and what’s not, and at any rate the rules broken are not a matter of life and death. Therefore, next time a police officer arrests you for murder, please don’t retort with “Back at you! I know what you did. Black Lives Matter!”, don’t associate your actions with this article and don’t mention my name.
But if the neighborhood’s malcontent loudly tells you off for walking on the grass instead of on the path, remember everything you read here, nod at him politely, keep that song in your heart, and when you look yourself in the mirror back home, fall in love anew with the beautiful person you see there, who did nothing wrong.