Stranger Rage

August 23rd, 2018

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The other morning, as I drove to the co-op, I was listening to a Radiolab episode called “The Bad Show,” which examines human nature and what it means to be inherently bad versus inherently good.

Take, Fritz Haber, a Jewish chemist in pre-Nazi Germany who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1918 for coming up with a way to free nitrogen from the air in order to fertilize crops and feed millions of people who may otherwise have starved. But then, in an unfortunate twist, became a war criminal when his methods were also used to weaponize poisonous gases during WWI, killing thousands and earning him the dubious moniker “the father of chemical warfare.“ Fritzie’s wife Clara killed herself when her husband’s work was responsible for 67,000 deaths at the Second Battle of Ypres. But rather than mourn the mother of his child, Fritzie left within days for the front and was remarried within two years.

Was Fritz “good” or “bad”? This is the question Radiolab was pondering as I pulled into the co-op. I bought a bunch of groceries, including two drinks — a cold brew and a bourgie hippie nut-mylk smoothie — and headed out to my car.

The co-op parking lot is a fraught place and requires the utmost patience. I usually handle it pretty well. But I was miffed to see a middle-aged woman in a minivan pull up to the front of the store and double park her car squarely in the pedestrian walkway. It’s not a crosswalk; a crosswalk implies a painted area where it’s legit to walk, giving cars fair warning. When pressed, you can walk elsewhere.

This, on the other hand, is a physical walkway of smooth asphalt traversing the parking lot, which is otherwise made of cobblestone and very bumpy. So when I swerved around the minivan, with my shopping cart loaded up and my drinks balanced in the top basket, I immediately hit the stones, and my drinks spilled everywhere.

I may have shouted an epithet.

But more importantly, after cleaning up the mess and loading up my car and seeing the minivan still blithely double-parked at least five minutes later, I felt obliged to let this “bad” person know the error of her ways. As I returned my shopping cart (“good person” move) I said, in my sternest voice, “You know, you’re blocking the walkway, and it’s very hard to get around you with a cart.”

She shrugged, “I’m almost done.”

I wasn’t, though. I could not let it go. “You could so easily have pulled up just a few feet to not block it. It’s just rude, is all.”

As I was giving her this dressing down, pushing my empty cart while turned around to face her, what I failed to notice was the posse of small toddlers being led by their minder across the lane. I returned my gaze forward just in time to avoid mowing them all down. The minders looked at me, shocked and speechless.

“I’m so sorry!” I said. But it was too late for me to have any chance of coming across as “the good one” in this scenario. The look of horror on all their faces as this crazy lady wreaked havoc on the parking lot was shaming.

Can you be a good person and still feel rage toward total strangers? All I’m saying is, we all like to think we’re the good guys, but there’s a lot of gray area.

As my social-friend Christine posted the other day, we are all the villain in someone’s story. I hate to say it, but I definitely am. Aside from the stranger rage, relationships with other humans are challenging, and they don’t always flow the way we want, nor do they always end neatly. Part of being a grown-up, I think, is learning to accept that none of us are “bad” or “good,” but simply human, doing our best. I love that old adage that is so overly memed in the self-helpy circles:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Now, will that stop me from lashing out at strangers in parking lots? Let’s be real. Absolutely not.

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