A few days ago, in the comment section, Julia asked a question She had (and I hope you don't mind me paraphrasing here, Julia) been on public transit, a large woman had been sitting taking up nearly two seats. When she got off, an older man sat down, calling her a 'fat pig' and suggested that if he had his way he'd send her to a boot camp (though the word could have been translated to mean 'concentration camp') Julia spoke up, out of real anger for what he had said, and told him that he wasn't so good looking either. There followed a war of words. In the comment I'm asked about how to best deal with these situations. It has taken me several days to come to this because I'm not sure I know the best solutions and its taken me days and days to formulate an answer of any kind.
First off, thank you for trying to do anything at all! I am always impressed when someone, in a world that prefers to greet cruelty with silent acceptance, has to courage to go against the grain and rise in protest. I think that single act is noteworthy itself. I'm betting you are spending more time worried about what you said, than he will ever spend considering the impact of his words on others around him.
In this situation, she had left the scene, this is different than if she had been there and it had been directed at her. I've been in situations when this kind of thing happens. Where racist remarks or gestures are made when someone of colour has come and gone. Where a woman's breasts or body is remarked upon after she has left the company of men. Where someone, noticeably gay, leaves and and the presumption of heterosexuality is made of the remaining few. Into those situation hateful or hurtful things are said, sometimes masked by a humourous tone. It always goes off like a bombshell in my heart and mind. I don't like the assumption that I too am a hateful hurtful person. The problem, I've always found, is that the speaker is usually someone who is used to the ways that bullies have of expecting and demanding the complicity of others.
It took me a long time to reach where you are now. It took me a long time to realize that I had a responsibility to break silence. When I did so, expecting that the silence of other good people would also be broken which would lead to their rallying around me - I found that this didn't always happen. That, instead, they most often joined the bully in protesting that I didn't have a sense of humour, that of course it wasn't meant that way, that I'm over sensitive and politically correct. Much like what happens on the Internet when bullies get called on their behaviour. Oh well. But, now knowing that perhaps, mine will be the only voice in opposition (even if others agree but act contrary to their agreement out of fear) makes it more, not less, important that I speak at all.
I had to learn to speak, out of protest, not anger. Like you, I began by using the fuel that anger gave me, to ignite my courage, and like you I always left the situation wondering how to have done it differently, said it differently, reacted more carefully. When I discovered the difference between protest and anger, I got a little better at it. I follow these three rules.
1) Never respond to insult with insult. This is the only point which I'd ask you to think about how the response might have been different. To talk about his looks after he comment about her looks leaves a kind of agreement that looks are fair game for judgement and comment on another. The issue isn't the old guy's looks, it's his behaviour and it's his assumption that all around agree. Those to me are the issues at the core of what needs to be addressed.
2) Speak about 'self' in 'I statements', not about 'them' in 'you statements'. The temptation is to go on attack. To respond by personalizing the discussion so that, suddenly, you aren't talking about what happened but, instead about the interaction which is happening presently. People leave these situations saying things like 'and out of the blue she attacked him' - you become the story, the issue is forgotten.
3) Speak as much, if not more, to others around rather than to the person specifically. You've got to bet that there are others who agree with you but are afraid, for many reasons, to speak up. Engage them, make their silence an agreement with you rather than an accord with the bully.
So, some responses that might have been useful in a situation like this:
Look around at others and say some things like:
I don't know about the rest of you, but I like the fact that others are different.
Look who thinks we are all bigots.
All I know is that I could never behave so hatefully to another.
My mother brought me up to behave with kindness, I guess this is why.
Or, if addressing him directly, and these need to be used more cautiously assessing your own personal danger. Call me a coward but I'd never use these when alone with the person in a closed environment:
Don't assume that I agree with you - I like differences in people.
I don't like hearing hateful talk about others, I believe in kindness.
Whoa, what happened to civility?
So those are some ideas. To me I found, after I'd thought about it that I was bothered as much by the assumption that I'm part of a mob who find hateful remarks acceptable as I was about the hateful remark itself. I didn't like the absolute trust that bullies had in the complicity of others, me included. I didn't like being made meek in the face of another's outrageous courage. Those are what I felt I had the power to respond to. The other thing that I realized is that kindness is seen as synonymous with passivity - it's not - kindness is powerful, is motivating, is revolutionary. The power of kindness is the ability it gives the speaker to speak from a different point of view. Love may not rage as much as hate does - but love is an unstoppable force, if only because of the constancy of the fuel supply. So, I believe that acts of public kindness go beyond picking up a lost teddy for a crying child - I think acts of public kindness are most powerfully done in a voice raised in protest at the treatment of another.
I believe Julia, you acted on an impulse to love and care for another, in the face of a brutal attack. Your action, even if you might want to do it differently, made a difference. Trust that. Thank your heart for beating strongly within your breast. Because, I thank you ... because as a fat guy at a computer in Canada, I know that in Germany, I have a friend.
Readers, I'd love to hear what you have to say ... so say it!!