Violence is easy. Threatening violence is even easier. In a world that continues to reward humans for aggressive behaviour, I do not believe that we will ever live free of violence. This is my colloquial understanding from watching my father first be delighted by the benefits that aggressively violent behaviour can reward him with… and then begin to misjudge the situations where he was vindicated in acting in an aggressively violent way to be that he felt he was ALWAYS vindicated in acting aggressively and violently. From the time I was four or five I watched my father increasingly behave violently to shop personnel, a parks guide once, administrators and ever increasingly… towards my family itself. The cops got called on him more and more and he began to curtail his public behaviour in favor of treating his family worse. Eventually he lost much of his family and most of his life as he knew it. And I don’t know more about his life to say how he’s dealt with this or internalized it to become a good person or not.
But I run into people that remind me of my dad all the time. I used to be drawn to them until the stunning pattern was that people like my dad are incredible assholes and are terrible to be around unless you have AMAZING boundaries with them. And they don’t love boundaries so they have to be subtle and clever and rock hard.
A few days ago, I saw a man on the bus who reminded me of my father. Like he had probably lost everything for one reason or another and was now older and alone and just wanted some human engagement. He was desperately trying to engage the mother of a toddler aged little girl in conversation. The mother wasn’t terribly responsive and didn’t seem to want to continue the conversation but that didn’t really matter to the old man. He was paying a lot of attention to the child.
Stop here: Men are accused of inappropriate behaviour towards small children for doing the same things that women do. This is true, and it IS harmful… but there’s a reason for this… and the bus featured heavily in my feed during the metoo hashtag outpouring of hurt.
So being aware of this, I was trying to swallow my personal judgements of the man and also keep watching the interactions because I was so nervous about the way it was unfolding. I thought he must have known them or something until the little girl who was in FULL TODDLER mode decided that she wanted to sit closer to the man and her mom admonished her that “we don’t sit next to strangers on the bus”. And because the girl was in full toddler mode she then HAD to sit next to the forbidden stranger. It CERTAINLY didn’t help that the creepy man beckoned the child to come closer after her mother had told her no. Looking back… THIS is the thing that was inappropriate and it was REALLY inappropriate. If a child’s mother expresses any disinterest in having her child sit next to you… you DO NOT beckon that child to you. I didn’t have the mental facilities to point this out at the time and I really am kicking myself for not doing so.
So toddler moved seats possibly because mom was worried that she would throw a huge tantrum if not allowed and didn’t want to disturb the other riders*… but the toddler was also a toddler and so she wasn’t good at (or interested in) sitting so she wouldn’t fall. So she lost her balance and both the mother and the old man reached out a hand to steady the child.
Stop here too: Full disclosure… I don’t remember when the man took his hand off the child because my attention got diverted but I saw that he absolutely kept his hand on the girl well after her mother had her. His hand lingered.
And then any attention I was paying this situation got diverted by the teenager behind me shouting at him to let go of the kid. Thereafter shit hit the fan.
Part of the reason I don’t exactly remember what happened next because everything about the situation was so triggering for me the details of it are lost to me. I know that the old man became extremely offended and started loudly threatening that he would “put (the teen) down” among other threats of violence and got up to move towards the teen (and me). I’m familiar with this kind of behaviour and also EXTREMELY triggered by such behaviour. Thanks Dad.
The bus driver (an amazing pro and star at what he do) got the man to sit down and calm down a bit (WHILE DRIVING!) but the man just quieted down his threats of the teenager. I was appalled thinking if the small child remembered anything it would be this part and was in poor control of my choices of words as I was livid. I told the man to stop talking and interrupted him every time he opened his mouth until he got mad enough that he was either going to do something that would get him facing legal consequences or leave altogether. He chose to get off rather than have those things happen and I’m certain felt soooooooooooo persecuted. Really. He’s such a nice guy, if only people wouldn’t be jerks to him he’d be his awesome self and no one would have problems! Clearly that was everyone else’s fault and not his…
1: What were we waiting for? If everyone on the bus or even half of us were looking at that situation going down wondering if the mother knew that guy that kept talking to her and finding that NO. She doesn’t know that guy or want her kid sitting near him but HE absolutely wanted the kid sitting nearer to him….
Well fuck. For fear of offending someone we were just going to wait until AFTER something inappropriate happened to a child?!
2: Dude proved himself to be WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE with a child. That teenager was a kid. A kid who overcame a whole lot of self preservation instincts to try and stop something bad from happening. That kid was not a bystander and while they instigated a disturbance they did NOT cause the disturbance.
3: The disturbance was caused by the old man threatening violence in response to being accused of touching a child inappropriately. The correct response in that situation would have been to remove hands from the child and state “that’s not what was happening, I was just steadying her.” And if he had done this I feel fairly certain that everyone on the bus would have told the teenager to shut up.
4: A combative man threatening violence on a teenager was kicked off a bus. But he got a day pass from the bus driver to keep him happy (and not violent). The cops weren’t called, and the man faced a half hour penalty to his time. This is all. I’m not urging greater consequence. I’m not decrying that this is the only consequence he received. But I do want to point out that this man’s gamble of threatening violence in order to defend himself against accusations of inappropriately touching a child on the bus totally paid off. No formal accusation was made and because the situation was so quick he was gone before anyone had time to properly think.
5: I told the teenager to save it for the serious stuff after the situation resolved. But you know what…? That situation was serious to the teen. Or they wouldn’t have said anything. And I really don’t want the fear of retributive violence to stop this teenager from acting in the future. That bus driver had your back. I had your back. If you ever get those feelings that caused you to act while seeing a child alone…? Please don’t let this situation stop you. Other people will have your back.
6: The teen had the mom’s back. The rest of us didn’t. I worry that she would feel judged by his call out. But the more I think about it the less comfortable this woman seemed with everything that was happening. I really think that we live in a society where parents are given a raw deal. Our culture both polices what they do and also encourages all strangers to leave them alone in some perversely WRONG attempt to make sure that children aren’t behaved badly to by strangers. When it’s family/friends who are the most common culprit in child abuse. Well. That’s not very effective because the good strangers who would help out a parent (hold your child while you put stuff in your car or put stuff in your car while you hold your child, catch your kid running away from you before they hurt themselves, or otherwise)… well. They stay away because they’re strangers. And then news outlets, anchors and websites all have the gall to imply that the newest child that got away from their parents and died somehow is the sole fault of the parent for not being hyper vigilant. These things happen in crowds and the crowd didn’t stop it either. And all the while people with actual negative intent towards children are just waiting to find one alone (because no one would talk to a strange child on their own SURELY its parent must be near) or looking for a way to make friends with a parent of a child. It takes a village. And not a village of bystanders waiting to pass judgement on a parent for something everyone could have prevented.
7: Back to the appropriate response part. If that man was interested in being a kindly older gentleman… why wasn’t he a kindly older gentleman with the teen? Why didn’t he just state the teen was wrong and thank the teen for his attempt to protect a child…? What if his kindly old man behaviour prior to the accusation was a facade for what was really underneath… which is what we saw as soon as the man was offended? How can we change this so that we live in a world where avoidance of aggressive action is venerated above all else? What about a world where someone stating that “that’s not what was happening, but if it had been you’d have done a good deed.” would be seen as the MOST logical response to such an accusation rather than doing what you always do when you want to make someone recant their statements… threatening violence. As if a statement recanted under such threats could be seen as being recanted in good faith or as if the violence displayed doesn’t uphold the original accusations.
One factor that could contribute to making the 21st century an era of peace would be a wider appreciation of the failure to resolve problems by force. The use of force may control people physically, but it won’t change their hearts and minds. You can only do that on the basis of trust and friendship. ~ The Dalai Lama.
In the future… I’m going to commit to acting far sooner in a situation like this to prevent this sort of thing. If I ever see a woman who seems uncomfortable with the attention a man is giving her… regardless of whether she has children or not… I am going to engage her in friendly conversation or interject myself into their conversation as a buffer. This is my lesson that I have learned.
* Parents: I don’t mind if your baby/child is screaming. That’s just what’s going on for them at the time and they’re riding the bus too. I can and will dress down anyone who gives you remote guff of any kind for your loud child on the bus. If it bothers people so much THEY can get off the bus rather than you.