Unless you live a solitary existence, there’s a decent chance you’ve had a run in with a jerk recently. The perp may have even been a loved one. Failing to show up for dinner, perhaps, or interrupting your heart-to-heart by taking a waiting call, or texting while listening to you: all of these actions are small but provocative. They hurt, because in our hearts we want to be top priority for somebody who has apparently pushed us to one side. The event might lead to conversation.
Jerks who are strangers are of a different genre. The driver who cuts you off in traffic or blasts music you don’t like, is often oblivious, and it’s not personal. We don’t appreciate being overlooked. But worse, there is another kind of unidentified jerk who intends to annoy you, at least for a brief hostile moment. Something is targeted at you, while the jerk remains safely anonymous. Perhaps he doesn’t like your bumper sticker. Of course you’re angry. Crossing paths with someone who takes the low road is stressful, because the gesture succeeds in its mission, and there’s very little to do about it but dust yourself off and move on. How do you do that, and also retain a sense of peace?
Living in an urban neighborhood, I park on the street, which is public, unreserved, and tight. On Saturday morning I awoke to find a nasty note scrawled on a crumpled store receipt, tucked under my windshield wiper. You can read it in the photo below. The jerk who left it was clearly unhappy with how I had parked the night before. Several hours had passed, his car was gone, and I had no way to check: did I really park too close, or did he expect to have the street to himself? The anonymous writer wasn’t offering useful feedback, or seeking an apology; I wouldn’t recognize him or his car if I saw them again. The purpose was just to relieve his distress, by giving me some. Sad that it’s the best he could do for himself. My neighbors don’t behave that way; who was this jerk?
Of course it doesn’t matter, yet it’s not always easy to shake off the feelings that come with a small taste of malice. Here are a few possibilities:
1) Benevolence. Doing something small and kind for somebody overwrites the nasty taste of a small mean thing.
2) Gratitude. Notice a small gift of nature, or of a stranger, that could easily be overlooked on a bad day. Maybe it’s a dragonfly. Within the same hour, a stranger next in line in a coffee house asked the cashier to double punch my card instead of starting his own, as he would not be visiting long enough to enjoy his 11th cup of coffee free. That was nice.
3) Bonding. I shared my experience with neighbors, who were suitably outraged, or amused, or both.
4) Distraction. When something provocative happens and it can’t be fixed, your goal is damage control. Breathe. Blog. Resume your life so rudely interrupted. Let it go.
5) Coffee. Never a bad idea.