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Sticks 'n Stones, the F-Bomb, and How to Beat the Bullies

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Joan Brunwasser       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never break me." ~The Christian Recorder, African Methodist Episcopal Church, March 1862

Last Sunday was almost perfect. My daughter, Yael, took me out to a lovely restaurant for a belated birthday brunch. The weather was quintessential Chicago spring: sunny with gorgeous blue, blue skies. It could be a tease, since the Windy City has been known, more than once, to follow such a day with a random snowstorm, just to keep things interesting. I drove to meet my daughter with the sunroof open, the sun filling the car with a delicious and most welcome warmth.

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Thanks to Waze, I was on time, and snagged the last spot in a parking lot quite close to the restaurant. Free parking because it was Sunday. Hooray! My daughter let me know that she was running late; no matter. I stood outside, indulging in two of my favorite pastimes: people-watching and online word games.

The day continued in a similar, delightful vein. We had a lovely meal. We enjoyed one another's company. We wandered around the neighborhood, stumbling upon a store that had many of the things that Yael needed for her upcoming trip. Afterwards, I dropped her off at her place and continued on to do a few errands of my own before heading home.

One of those stops was a suburban Bed Bath & Beyond. I got what I needed and headed back to my car. In and out in ten minutes. Excellent! I was grateful that the mall put stop signs outside busy stores like BBB to allow pedestrians to return safely to their cars. I had taken a few steps into the crosswalk when a motorist bore down on me. I gestured meaningfully toward the stop sign. The driver shouted, "I don't have to stop." Then, she added, "You could walk faster if you took off some weight." Her tone was almost conversational, the venom carried by the words alone. Pow.

I was stopped in my tracks, speechless, my mouth agape. I was astounded by the comment as well as the rage oozing from this person. She looked like she was going to implode. In the seconds before she sped away, I checked her out. She wasn't a teenager, or even a young woman. She looked to be middle-aged or older. Hmmmm.... What did that signify?

And then, suddenly, other emotions began pouring out of me. I was enraged. Sure, like everyone else, I get mad, but mostly with some modicum of distance. But this feeling was right there in my face, so to speak, and it wouldn't be denied. I wanted to toss off some brilliantly scathing remarks about how I could take off weight but no matter what she did, she would still be a complete jerk. Mostly, I just sputtered. I felt powerless, humiliated, eviscerated, paralyzed. All of the above.

Next, I wanted to spring after her and key her car or something equally destructive and stupid but momentarily, oh so satisfying. To attack and decimate her. Like she had done to me, with just a few, well-chosen words.

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Finally, I was flooded with a tremendous, overwhelming shame. My face got very, very hot. I was ashamed. She had shamed me. And I'm not used to that. But, here it was, this shame bomb, landing at my feet with a loud thump.

Yes, I carry some unwanted, unwelcome pounds. Yes, I wish they were not there and I've developed some good habits to combat them. Also relevant: even when I was at a perfectly acceptable weight, I was a slow walker. I always got where I needed to go, but not that quickly.

Not that it would have mattered to this woman. Nothing mattered to her other than the fact that I was keeping her from getting where she wanted to go, when she wanted to get there. The ironic part of this is that this whole exchange probably took thirty seconds. My admitted meandering across the street cost her three seconds, tops. After all, how wide is a car? Five or six feet, at the most? How many steps is that? Four or five teeny tiny steps, maybe, but normal strides - two? Three?

I retreated to my car and sat there and shook. I wanted to crawl under a rock and disappear. I wanted to climb into my bed and stay there forever. I had had an exceptionally nice day, and this brief interlude had the power, if I let it, to blot that out. How sad is that?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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11 people are discussing this page, with 27 comments


Meryl Ann Butler

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OMG, Joan this piece is so real and insightful and amazing, and I appreciate your willingness to share your story and your soul. I'm absolutely sure it will be helpful to many other people, it was to me, I'm making a commitment to do more RAKs too!!! xo

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 3:45:27 AM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Thanks, Meryl Ann! As hurtful as this incident was, I just refused to be defined by it. That would have let that mad motorist win, which was the last thing I wanted. I can't wait to hear how people pick up the challenge and what they come up with!


Thanks for writing! And for being inspired. Something good has come of this already!

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 3:52:28 AM

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b. sadie bailey

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I'm so sorry you were the target of someone's random rage, self centeredness, and hateful behavior.

your interviews and articles have made such a difference to me; I always look forward to them. When you interview people, you have this great way of engaging them and truly giving them your attention and curiosity. You ask really good questions; you help us all learn new things and keep it interesting. You interview inspiring people trying to make world a better place, even when the news is hard. "Inspiring" is often one of the ratings I pick when rating your articles and interviews. As hard as it was to be the target of someone's misdirected rage and scorn, is no exception, because you turned something ugly into something positive - but not without a lot of self awareness and critical thinking first.

Thanks for including us in this very personal conversation that impacts us all in these times.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 6:06:01 AM

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Joan Brunwasser

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It was a very difficult piece to write, but an important one for me. I experienced such vivid and raw emotions, it took some time to process it all. The experience was so fraught and so personal, it was difficult but also important to share it with others. Thank you for validating that choice.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 11:35:43 AM

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Daniel Geery

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Most relevant, familiar sounding, and thought provoking article/experience. More later, but my first reaction is that you should have smiled and snapped her windshield wiper off! Will expound more when I get near my computer with a few similar experiences (with hundreds to chose from--meanwhile, it's good you didn't or you might not be here to write about it).

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 3:12:17 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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I'm really sorry to hear that you have had so many similar experiences, Daniel. That's a major bummer. I wanted to provoke a conversation and hope this is only the beginning. Being silent and feeling bad made me feel small, almost invisible. I didn't like the feeling.

Thanks for writing.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 4:30:58 PM

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Daniel Geery

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Joan, A continuation of my previous comment here. The windshield wiper idea came to me some years back when some lunatics in a large pick-up truck aimed for and honked at me, while coming from behind and missing me by inches, while I was rollerblading down the side of a wide, relatively untraveled street. It sent me through the roof for hours if not days afterwards, particularly as the morons were laughing hysterically as I almost jumped off my blades.

It would be pointless to go into examples of people behaving so rudely and obnoxiously, particularly in cars, but in countless other situations as well. What has long been of interest to me is how I have been unable to "let go" of something that is pointless to stew about. I recall from when I was teaching elementary, seeing an article (I think in The Utne Reader) about our reaction to anger. There was a graph of "anger vs. time," that showed how most of us react to a disturbing situation, with our anger hanging on long after the event that triggered it. Next to that was a graph of how Buddhists are supposedly trained and do respond to the angering event. Rather than the long "run out slope" of lingering anger, their graph was a rapid spike, followed by a prompt drop off. This stuck in my head like glue and I began working on it immediately in the classroom, where a teacher has much opportunity for practice!

Still, in my personal life, I have all too often "allowed" some nitwit comment to fester in my head, not uncommonly while I was actually working on some project in my shop and should have been more focused, or else while just generally living. Try as I might to "change the record," the tune kept coming back, along with more and more ways I "should have" responded or things I "could have" said. This does appear to be a module (or whatever a neurologist might call it) that has evolved with us over time, probably for good and practical reasons in earlier stages of human existence.

But now, like much needless or useless worry, does no good but to raise our blood pressure and levels of harmful hormones, accomplishing more harm to ourselves than our "enemies" could possibly do to us themselves. It also strongly points to how wars and violent fights start and how dangerous this is to us as a society. Personal feuds of "leaders" leading to dumber and dumber actions, in viciously accelerating cycles, quite like we see in the headlines on a regular basis.

At age 70, I have become much more adept at "letting things go," when nothing more will change the situation, except to further wreak havoc with my physical, mental, and emotional health. In spite of this, I still find it terribly easy to lapse into "stewing in my own juices" and wasting time, in addition to the above. Thought control is tricky business, but we can do better with practice, based on my own experiences. I find it worthwhile as a rule to realize that "that particular numbskull" is probably having major issues of their own, maybe even far more serious than we can imagine. The wider the path I cut for others, the easier my own life generally goes. Contemplate for a few seconds even, the emotional and personal devastation going on, nationally and internationally, for those who can't get Trump out of their head long enough to focus on constructive action. I hear it's good for business, if you happen to be a psychologist or psychiatrist!

I see that I'm beginning to ramble aloud here, but I did want to reiterate that your article was extremely well done and obviously thought provoking. Just knowing that other humans go through similar emotionally devastating situations, often regularly, and hence "we are not alone," I find is a useful dose of emotional medicine. Thank you again for the article--that I'm sure could be expanded to a book, if it hasn't been already.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 6:44:55 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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I finally had time to get back to this. Daniel, thanks for sharing your observations. I think you make a really good point about how 'stewing' just disables ourselves. For that reason, if not others, it is so worthwhile to find someplace to go with all that anger, rage, frustration. Mine eventually found its way to my reflections, which led to this piece. Friends have worried that I'm still ___ (fill in the blank: angry, scared, etc.). But the processing did the trick. That's what I needed and now I'm good to go.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 1:15:36 AM

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Daniel Geery

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Alive?

Submitted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 4:47:38 AM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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Great points, Daniel! And reminds me of the saying, "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

Submitted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 2:21:13 AM

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Maxwell

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Glad that writing this article, about a perfect day save for one very ugly incident, helped put it into perspective.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 8:10:24 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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You are right on target, Maxwell. I'm glad too. Otherwise, I would have been schlepping along all those very negative feelings which can get pretty heavy after a while.

Thanks for writing!

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 9:16:59 PM

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Kenneth Johnson

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In Southern California, especially LA (as well as many other places, as we all know) we have evolved to a point where there exists only a hair trigger response time between hurling insults and hurling bullets.

This theme subject should be required in all schools.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 8:39:11 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Agreed. Sadly.

People often resort to force when they either haven't learned how to communicate (or do it well) or shortcircuit the process and go straight to dropping the bomb, skipping all those in-between steps...

It would also be beneficial to teach that resorting to force is not the epitome of manliness, that it takes more maturity to slow things down than to escalate them.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 9:20:15 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Sorry you had to have that woman spoil your otherwise lovely day.

Clearly that woman has some major rage issues she has not dealt with so she finds it necessary to project her negativity onto innocent strangers.

When I find myself in a similar situation I always give the offender a look to let them know I think they are out of control and quite bonkers. It seems to work in most cases. I can tell by the look they give in return. They can usually be shamed for their behavior. If not, they are very sad people.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 9:18:40 PM

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Susan Lee Schwartz

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Yes, 'if you can think it you can do it or "Just Do It!" as Nike puts it.

It has a corollary! If you can think it you can say it"

Here's the sick rational that removes the civic responsibility to be 'civil' as in civilization -- societies that grasp CIVICS... which is not taught in our schools any more.

Here at Oped, one verbal bully, came after me; he had no argument that could dislodge my penchant for preferring observable reality to the landscape of his perseptions .i.e opinions -- or the dogma he spouted..

Vebal bullying gets flagged here, but not at first ,so, he told me to "stop burying my head in the sand," and that was the nicest comment directed at me, as he raged on, seeing no accountability.

Of course, Joan as you know, verbal bullies abound on social bogs, so it is easy to imagine that no one is monitoring the commentary. They are celebrated for this bad behavior in cyber-space where there i s NO accountability for spewing hate and hostility and calling it 'freedom of speech.'

I just watched Robert Reich talk about the media -- which is the purveyor of of the words ---and today, it gives us NON-STOP the words of those who would impose their values on us!

And they do it easily, -- these days -- in the absence of those VALUES, that are always held sacred by CIVIL societies.

Freedom comes with responsibility. Learning the values once resided in family, neighborhood, community, schools. religious institutions.... introduceing children to some accountability. The rest comes with good parenting and neighborhood values.

For decades, as a student of the media, I have pointed to In The Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander; THE BEST EVER to explain when and how our values changed from the beneficial ones that parents and society once passed on to society, to the ones sold to us by corporate entities; if you read the opening paragraphs you will know that Jerry Mander, predicted our present society....the one that Nichols & Mcchesney described on a Moyers show... so long ago.... they saw this coming!

IT IS ALL about accountability... or the lack of it , for OUR WORDS... for what we say-- for what we utter without giving a thought to the impact on another human being.

Empathy does not exist for sociopaths on the warpath. They don't care whom they hurt... and the social media led the way for this generation.

This bully in the WH calls journalists lying scum! He is the model!Diminishing public trust is the Trump way... he MODELS DISRESPECT. Trump IS the TOP model! HE TELLS us that "The press" -- not he,-- are the liars..."Believe me," is his mantra. I could not write such ironic dialogue in a play.

Words matter and no civilization thrived for long when liars informed the most crucial decisions!

FYI "Words Matter," is the working title of the first posts for my blog.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018 at 9:58:59 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Thanks for your insightful comments, Susan.


Submitted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 1:17:28 AM

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gunnar kullenberg

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...mm...I know what you mean, but...I live in Los Angeles and people are a lot ruder here than in Chicago (fact)...but I have to guess you were a tad careless when you started to walk -- I make a point of not letting that kind of mistake happen, by checking, very carefully...I KNOW people may not pay attention, but what matters to me most is my own health and safety and not who's at fault, so I check...

But here in LA people do NOT "check", they "walk"...they even make a point of walking provocatively slow, even looking at drivers contemptuously if they feel like it and even against the driver's green light! -- ..oh yeah...

...doesn't matter...I won't let them get a chance at causing an accident, with me as the victim, if I can help it...and I always have been able to...

The incident you describe, although unpleasant enough, does sound fairly mild...by LA standards...

Having said all this I have to add that there is a flip side, even here in LA -- many times, people are extraordinarily courteous and respectful to pedestrians! -- ..it's all about the where and the when and the how...

Submitted on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 7:48:23 PM

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I agree with your observation, Gunnar, except this sentence: "I have to guess you were a bit careless when you started to walk." We should not expect pedestrians to need Special Forces training as a requirement for crossing the street.

In LA one may tend to stereotype a person as a potential risk, then see the same person a minute later drag a passenger or driver from a burning car.

And, incidents like Joan describes (and worse) do indeed happen here every day, so I understand what Gunner is saying; and also from personal experience.

Even considering the Los Angeles city population of nearly 4,000,000 it's hard to keep things in perspective, when your concern is personal and immediate. This lends one to look upon things as a soldier who must suspect that anyone may be trying to kill him.

Submitted on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 9:02:19 PM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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We should not expect pedestrians to need Special Forces training as a requirement for crossing the street.


Love that!

Submitted on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 10:36:55 PM

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Rob Kall

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great article. The idea of trickle down anger, meanness and nastiness makes a lot of sense.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 12:37:06 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Thanks, Rob.


This one seems to have struck a nerve with a lot of people. It's better to share those feelings than to feel isolated and small. Writing this piece, however difficult, was like reversing the process. I no longer felt dissed and invisible; I felt empowered and hopeful.

Quite a lot of emotions got stirred up by a random, momentary encounter.

Submitted on Friday, May 4, 2018 at 12:43:31 PM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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I just found this -- a free downloadable resource for teachers and parents -- a coloring book of kindness... you print it out, .and staple it into a book for kids!

Submitted on Friday, May 4, 2018 at 11:05:35 AM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Reply to Meryl Ann Butler:   New Content

This is wonderful, Meryl Ann. I wonder who knows about this? Hopefully, more people now!!

I just downloaded the coloring book and put it together. I'm going to send it to my granddaughter.

Thanks!

Submitted on Friday, May 4, 2018 at 12:29:39 PM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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Reply to Joan Brunwasser:   New Content

Well, it's a teacher's site...but a few items, like this are great for parents and grammas too!

Submitted on Friday, May 4, 2018 at 2:45:59 PM

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Peter Nyikos

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Joan, you have a great idea there, and under the circumstances you describe, it is the ideal solution.

But it is altogether different in cyberspace. The hateful words are a matter of permanent record in some forums where only the poster has the power to cancel them. And in places like talk.origins they don't even have that power because the cancellation only goes as far as the subscribed-to server organization (Eternal September, New Google Groups, Giganews, etc.)

I wish there were some way to minimize the damage that canards and outright libels (I'm not talking about ordinary insults.) do in forums like these. They damage people's reputations and encourage other cyberbullies to pile on the victim.

Submitted on Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 4:08:10 PM

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Joan Brunwasser

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Reply to Peter Nyikos:   New Content

It is definitely a much thornier and more serious problem ini cyberspace. I agree with you.


But, at the same time, it absolutely can't hurt to start somewhere. Being kind is a muscle that we all must develop through constant use. The best way I think it by seeing it in action, others doing it, being role models. It opens the imagination to another way of interacting and it all starts with one person, ourselves.


Maybe if those mean teens out there see their parents and their friends modeling this behavior, they'll think twice about their own cruel behavior. About cruel adults, again, it is more difficult.


Thanks for writing.

Submitted on Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 5:04:58 PM

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