Life Lessons on the Subway07 / 13 / 2017
Disclaimer: I realize that the word “crazy” can be triggering for some people. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m using the word “crazy” to describe those who are combative and/or belligerent beyond what’s expected from the average person. It may or may not be connected to any mental health diagnosis.
Don’t engage with crazy.
If you’ve ever taken the NYC subway, you probably learned that rule very quickly. It’s the reason why stoic faces have become an integral part of the NYC landscape. It took an encounter with a weirdo on the subway to drive home this principle, since I clearly wasn’t catching on quickly enough in my personal life. So let me tell you my subway story first…
I got the train one evening, looked around, and made a half a second of eye contact with everyone who was looking at me.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” said the man leaning against the adjacent door.
He wasn’t talking to me, was he? Oh, maybe he was.. I diverted my eyes to the opposite end of the train, pretending not to see him. We don’t engage with crazy ’round these parts.
Soon a seat opened up next to where he was standing. I plopped my tired self down. A few stops later, the train jerked and he accidentally stepped on my foot.
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
“It’s ok,” I say with a smile and a lighthearted giggle..
“Actually, not really. I’M NOT SORRY!” He yells snidely..
“Ummm.. Sir, did I do something to you?” …I said that part in my head. I dared not utter a single word to that man. A logical conversation was not going to fix this. Logic is no match for crazy. I just pulled out my phone, texted my boyfriend and ignored the fuck out of this weirdo.
He quickly went back to what he was doing before our exchange, singing at the top of his lungs to the music on his headphones.
Soon, a white woman got on the train and sat across from me.. She looked up at ‘Mr. Friendly’.
“OH YOU LOOKING AT ANOTHER CRAZY BLACK MAN ON THE TRAIN?”
? Here we go..
The woman looked up again and rolled her eyes, saying “What are you talking about?“
Now, who told her to go do that? Maybe she hadn’t been on the train long enough to realize he was crazy, or maybe she was trying to stand her ground and prove that she wasn’t going to be intimidated. The only thing that kept running through my mind “Oh no, baby! What is you doin’? Pleeeease just disengage.. no facial expressions, no words, no nothing. Just take this L so he’ll shut up!”
Too late. For the next 3 minutes, the train passengers got an earful of this man screaming at her, calling her a dumb bitch, telling her what he would do to her if he were in his hood. It was horrendous. (Side note: New Yorkers are good for defending others from prejudiced rants on the train. We’ve all seen the videos on FB.. But when crazy is involved, ain’t nobody jumping in trying to be a hero. It’s just not safe.)
I think at that point, the woman finally got the memo that this guy had some mental health issues and she was quiet until she got off at her stop. And he just continued to sing at the top of his lungs until he got off at his stop. And everyone just continued with their day as if nothing eventful happened.
Now why was this story so significant to me? Because it was a metaphor for two parallel situations I’ve recently experienced in my personal life and business.
In one situation, a jealous woman popped up in my Facebook inbox talking craaazy, trying to sabotage my relationship. She also tried to pull another very manipulative stunt.. but that’s a whole other story for another time.
In the second situation, I enforced my 24 hour cancellation policy with a client and he responded by going on a loooong angry tirade, calling me everything but a child of God and telling me what he thought my value was. I suppose he was trying to “put me in my place”.
In both cases, I wanted to stand up for myself while still being compassionate. I wasn’t going to be petty. I wasn’t going to cuss them out (although I did think about it). I was going to be cordial, but firm.. professional. I was going to reason with them, I would try have a rational conversation – and they were going to see the light and recognize the error of their ways!
Perhaps I was the crazy one if I thought that was actually going to work. ?
After a few exchanges with them I realized that they were out their damn minds and I just stopped responding and hit the block button.
I wouldn’t say that I handled these situations badly (could have been a lot worse).. but I was triggered by these conversations that really shouldn’t have happened in the first place. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have given either of them the satisfaction of a single response from me.
Because what was so obvious to me on the train applies in both of these situations.
You treat assholes the same way you treat crazy combative people on the subway. You disengage immediately. The moment anyone comes at you sideways, the conversation is over. You don’t try to prove yourself. You don’t try to reason with them. You don’t try to be cordial. You don’t try to be defensive. You don’t argue. You don’t cuss. You just leave them alone to stand there looking.. well.. crazy..
It’s not a sign of weakness. Kings and queens doesn’t descend from their thrones to engage with silliness.
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