Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's A Bouncing Baby Man

He didn't see me sitting behind him. I don't know if my presence, known about, would have made a difference. I'm guessing not. We were waiting for the light to change to head north and as such were watching people cross from the east. A woman, maybe on 20 or 21, was making her way carefully across the street. She had an unsteady gait, I'm guessing she had cerebral palsy, and navigating over the streetcar tracks took all of her concentration. I'm glad, because, he nudged the friend next to him and started to imitate her walk. His friend found this hilarious and worked to keep from laughing out loud.

She crossed in front of us, not having seen the mocking, or maybe working and pretending she hadn't seen it, it's hard to tell sometimes. Anyways our light had changed to green and everyone who had waited headed north. My stomach was churning. I knew I was building up to say something to him. Most don't believe me but I really don't like confrontation. Really, really, don't like it. But I make myself sometimes. We pulled to a stop at another light and I reached forward and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to look at me. I was terrified partly because I was going to confront him for his behaviour, but also partly because bullies are amazingly adept at finding new victims. I didn't want to be his next target.

"So, I just wanted to know, do you make fun of people with disabilities, like the woman at the crosswalk, because you are cruel or because you actually hate people with disabilities? I'm always curious when I see hateful behaviour like that.' He was, in a word, thunderstruck. I waited to simply be struck. His mouth opened and closed, several times, like he was astonished to be addressed by a stranger, a fat guy in a wheelchair no less, and confronted about mocking someone else.

He didn't shout, he didn't yell and, most importantly, he didn't hit me. "Come on man, I was just joking."

"So you figure that you can joke about her because you are better than her, is that it?"

"No, I was just joking, really, just joking. Besides, she didn't see me, so what difference does it make."

"I saw you, she's part of my community, doesn't that matter? Don't I matter, don't my feelings matter?"

Realize now, we are actually having a discussion. His friend is wanting him to go, ignoring me said friend kept saying, 'it was just a joke, let's go.'

The young fellow said, "OK, so I'm sorry, is that what you want?"

"No," I said, "I want you to realize that you have the potential to be a fine person. You didn't yell at me, or hit me, you've chosen to talk to me. Behind the facade of a guy who makes fun of disabled people, is a pretty nice guy. I just want you to have to courage to be him most of the time. Cause, frankly, the other guys an ass."

He smiled. Actually smiled. "I don't think I've ever been told off so nicely. You're right, what I did was beneath me. I won't do it again. Cause, really, I'm a nice guy."

"Dare to be that guy," I said.

I rode home thinking, 'that so didn't go like I thought it would go.'

I think, maybe, I was the midwife at the birth of a real, actual, adult man.


Tamara said...

That was one exceptionally productive confrontation! Nice!

painting with fire said...

Well done! Calling him out in a way that could change the behaviour is so much better than just calling him out. Hard to do too.

GirlWithTheCane said...

This took my breath away.

You don't mention his age, but I know from the work that I've done with teens that there are very few of them that are actually "bad". Misguided, yes. In environments that don't meet their needs, with no idea how to deal with that - yes. In need of positive influences - definitely. But when it comes to people with disabilities, most of them, like the man you dealt with, just simply haven't thought about how they come across and what kind of implications it has. This story reminded me of dealing with one of those kids, and kudos to you for getting through to him without making him feel like a bad person - those are the learning interactions that they remember and use the next time.


Kristin said...

Well done Dave! Absolutely incredible.

Rhonda said...


Because of your courage another individual has been given the opportunity to look at their behaviour in a different light. With the knowledge that what he has done is disrespectful he is now choosing to change his behaviour. This would not have happened had you chose to not to confront him. Thank you for your courage, you do make a difference and this is yet another shining example.

CL said...

Awesome - you handled it very well, and it's great that he was receptive.

Sometimes I get irritated with people's protestations that they're "nice guys" but in this case you actually used his self-image as a "nice guy" to make him change his behavior. I think he really will be a nicer guy in the future.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Nicely done! You made him an ally instead of an enemy. Its hard to keep your wits about you in a confrontation but you did.


Chloe said...

Confronting a stranger on the street takes real courage. Good for you. And good for him.

Jen said...

Good work Dave. I wish I was there, listening to that conversation.

Kristine said...

Wow... If that's the kind of interaction we all could anticipate when somebody "confronts" us, I don't think there'd be much reason left to fear confrontation... I'll be keeping this one in mind the next time I'm working up the courage to confront someone! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

How can one person write so many great posts?!

I love you for having the courage to confront him (as lets face it, he could have been abusive) and for him to have the courage and humility to admit that he was wrong - and to say he will change his behaviour... and I am sure he will - the lesson you gave him would be a tough one to ignore!

It takes guts to admit you are wrong and sometimes even more so to a stranger - so kudos to the guy. Ok he was being a (something!!) to begin with - but as you say a nice guy is there underneath!

Noisyworld said...

Wow! It tooks real guts to say that to him and it took real class for him to react that way.
I would put money on him telling everybody he knows about that talk in the next few days and the awareness will hopefully gain a little ground :)

Kimberly said...

That was a super way to deal with that. I hope that when I am confronted with a similar situation that I can deal with it with half as much grace and style.

Belinda said...

What an amazingly cool conversation. A life changing one. And what a lot of courage it must have taken to start it.

Valle said...

You have an amazing touch...we can all learn form you because I bet most of us would have ignored it, and felt horribly guilt for letting it go, or we would have confronted him in a way that just raised the temperature of the moment. And the potential of that young man wouldn't have had the chance to emerge. Bravo!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Valle, I think I need confess that I only do this sort of thing, with total strangers on the street (versus employees in stores and offices - they are fair game) with real caution. I've had this go very badly, very quickly, therefore I choose carefully who I'm going to confront. I still get it wrong a lot, but sometimes, like this time, it goes remarkably well.

Anonymous said...

I'm all tears. In a good way. Thank you.

Princeton Posse said...

Sorry to be late in reading this post but...Wow Dave, you've got guts! I recently had an encounter with a teen that was not so favourable. I will try another approach next time.