The Etiquette of Violence

Solid Left Hook
Solid Left Hook

“In violence, we forget who we are” Mary McCarthy

We had a very busy schedule this morning. First we were stopping by the dump. Then we had to go to the post office to mail letters to pen pals in Australia. Afterwards we had a trip down the local interstate to gather paperwork that had to be handed back in to our local school district to wrap up this homeschooling year. . . .as though homeschooling ever stops.

As we were leaving the dump we had to travel a few miles to the post office. Upon pulling up to the final red light I started telling my kids some of the places we planned on going this summer, the Smokey Mountains, St. Augustine and so on. As I was talking I heard a car horn blast two or three times behind me. Looking in the rearview mirror I found that the fellow behind me along with his teenage daughter were so close to my rear bumper I could see the lines on their faces. I thought maybe I had missed the light while talking and looking up saw that it was still red and the flow of traffic would not allow a right-hand turn anyway so I went back to my conversation. Again the horn, this time when I looked up in the mirror he was angrily signaling for me to turn. I responded with a bit of frustration waving him around the vehicle. His first reaction to my hospitality was to give me the middle finger.

Allow me to provide a little background to this story before I go any further. I grew up in a violent household. My family before me grew up in violence, it was multi-generational. I am neither intimidated by it nor impressed by it. In fact I have very little patience for it and I have worked very hard to channel my energy properly and believe me at times it is work. As a young man I was consumed by my anger due to my upbringing and allowed it devour my youth simply because I had not been provided the tools or opportunity to move down another path. I chose a number of negative influences before I found boxing and believe it or not that eventually led me to yoga.

So with that said back to our story. When the traffic slowed I turned right. As I was driving I glanced in my mirror and saw my tailgater tight on my bumper. I started thinking that he was following me. In an attempt to test my theory I waited until the last second to choose one of a number of left hand turns, he followed. In order to make sure I was not being paranoid I chose to take a random right hand turn that is rarely ever used and he followed. At this point my mind began to race. My uncles were all champion pugilist and trainers. I spent a lot of time around them as a kid and recently as an adult spent countless hours in gyms following in the family business training a local heavyweight. My point is I am in pretty good shape for a 40 year old and know how to throw a serious punch. I also recognize the responsibility that arises with this knowledge and lucky for this fellow nowadays I prefer to do yoga more than hit the heavy bag. I prefer to center on the calm rather than the violent.

My main concern was exposing my children to this sort of behavior but I knew that he would continue to follow until I stopped so I did. I pulled into a parking space at the grocery store that allowed me to drive forward if need be. I did not like the idea of backing over someone I had just flattened with a solid left hook. Before I even had my vehicle in park this fellow was out of his truck. In a split second I digested my surroundings, his body language and type.

Though he got out quickly he did not take more than a step toward my vehicle which told me that he really was not interested in getting physical. He had not shown a weapon and his daughter was staring straight ahead obviously embarrassed. I also noticed his huge beer belly and gathered he probably is not doing the amount of pushups I do in a day thus if it came to blows he would be winded in a moments time. I do not say this to brag or impress simply to let you know what was running through my mind.

As I stepped out of my vehicle he started screaming at me dropping the f-bomb every other word. I calmly walked toward him which he did not expect and stopped about three feet from him. I casually told him I had three young children in the vehicle and for lack of a better phrase told him he needed to gather himself. At this point he tried blaming me for the confrontation claiming I had been aggressive with him which was not the case. I started rolling my arms slowly the way I do when I am warming up to strike a heavy bag without realizing I was doing it. I only realized it when he looked at my arms moving and slowed his speech grabbing his car door to get in quickly. I smiled politely and stopped and told him I was signaling him to go around me and he said I should not have done that and then proceeded to get into his car. He should have gotten a speeding ticket in the process of leaving.

I got back into my vehicle and my kids were wide eyed. I said everything was alright and we went to the post office. They still seemed a little shell shocked afterwards. So I began explaining what road rage was. I also took the opportunity to explain that I could have chosen to escalate the situation by screaming back or I could have done what I did which was allow him to blow off some steam. I tried to relate it to other experiences where one may have to allow their instincts to guide them to a safe resolution rather than resorting to violence.

Some people do not like boxing. Some do not understand the violent ballet. I told my children that though I know how to fight I do not like to do it because people get hurt and I do not like hurting people. But I wanted them to understand the confidence that one has knowing they can defend themselves and those that they love. We talked about the philosophy that surrounds a solid yoga routine which we tend to do as a family. I tried to relate this higher understanding of suffering and empathy and explained to them that I chose to remain peaceful rather than engaging his violence.

It was a strange day, one that parents and children unfortunately have to deal with on occasion. I hope that my children walked away feeling safe and secure and may have gained some on the job training in conflict resolution.  


9 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Violence

    1. Poetryraingirl,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. Luckily I had some great teachers emerge, especially later in my life and I followed their example. Hopefully my kids will do the same someday.

  1. I’ve spent years teaching non-violence/conflict resolution. Your approach was masterful. First you gave the guy plenty of time to calm down by taking a number of turns before pulling over. You chose a safe spot. You approached him calmly and let him know you had small children in your car. The good shape you’re in may very well have had something to do with a successful outcome, but I’m betting the tone of your voice and your willingness to talk reasonably played a larger part. I hope his daughter has examples of people in her life who can handle their frustration without it overflowing into misdirected rage. Perhaps your example showed her another kind of man.
    This is an important tale. Thank you Tobias.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond so kindly Laura. It is interesting that you brought up his daughter because I thought about her for sometime after the incident. I began wondering what type of father he was to her? Was he having some sort of crisis I was unaware of and lost his cool. Was he regularly a loving man. Was he normally abusive? Did she feel like a captive in this mans house and so on.

      It is strange how others actions, however brief, can impact our lives. As parents my wife and I have really worked hard to foster a loving, respectful home and would never purposely expose our children to such behavior but simply by interacting with the world outside of our door we cross paths with a variety of emotions. So much for homeschoolers not being socialized eh?

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. I find it amusing that although I practice a state of open, non-judgmental being in much of my work and life, on the road I have difficulty remaining in that place. I will hold your example in my mind each time I get behind the wheel as a practice to live up to!

    1. Charles, thank you for commenting. Truth is I think in one fashion or another we have all probably been the “other guy” at one point or another in our driving experience. After reading your kind comment I now feel the need to live up to my own example on a regular basis! Thank you for reading.

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