From Zero to Rage in a Millisecond

Twenty-plus years ago when my two sons were quite small, I had a very upsetting experience while waiting in a Costco parking lot for my husband. It was night time and it was just the three of us. A man in a big pickup pulled up next to where we were parked and when he opened his door, it banged into the side of my car.

Not long before this, my younger son had carelessly done the same thing and made a ding in a lady’s car door. We had to go in search of the owner, do the whole exchange of insurance and contact information. I’d impressed on my son that he had to be more careful opening his door.

So when this man banged our car, I got out to say something to him. The moment I said the words “You hit our car,” he exploded verbally, spewing out obscenities, his sudden anger at me (when he was clearly at fault) unexpected and frightening. I’m sure he saw me as vulnerable–a woman alone with two small kids. I certainly felt that way. In any case, I immediately backed down, scared but seething inside. The man went on his way.

This incident came to mind because something similar happened today. I don’t want to say where it happened. It’s a place where I’m the customer, and I was unhappy with something that had happened, something that should have been done differently. My first impulse was to call the person’s boss to complain, but I thought instead that I would just talk to the person directly.

I told the person all this, that I wanted to avoid calling his boss. As I spoke to him, yes, I was ticked, and I probably sounded irritated. But when I told him what I wished he’d done differently, he immediately pulled out the big anger guns. He used the f-bomb and made it clear he thought the fault was mine and not his that the mistake had happened.

I walked away and told him I’d take it up with his boss. He threw out, “You do that,” then followed me, carping at me some more. I tried again to get my point across, but kept walking until I got in my car to leave.

Unlike the experience with the guy in the pickup truck, today’s was more unpleasant than scary. But to have a near stranger blow up at me like that was kind of shocking. Even if you think a customer is annoying (and yes, I can be annoying sometimes), you smile and apologize. In this particular situation, I had a valid point to make, but he wasn’t having any of it.

What’s also interesting is that the same person was around the day before when my husband and another man were working on a project. I introduced myself, talked to him, made some suggestions about the work he was doing, and he took my requests with equanimity. So what was the difference today? Was he having a bad day? Or was it that I was a woman by herself, without two other men within earshot?

Unexpected explosive anger isn’t restricted to men. I’ve known women who respond the same way to get the upper hand. And truly, there’s nothing else you can do in these situations but back down and walk away. But the next call you make should be to someone who can do something about it.

So I called his boss. Which I now wish I’d done in the first place.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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