We all, at some point, confront our own ability to both be harmed and inflict harm among others. Much of our lives can be shaped by our ability or inability to accept these fundamental capabilities.
(I say fundamental, because our ability to harm and be harmed concerns not only the most memorable and juicy bits of life, but perhaps also life itself. We are; in being we inflict ourselves upon the world around us, often upon the other beings existing around us. Thus we harm. Inevitably, too, the world around us hurts us - inevitably, some of those blows prove fatal. And so we are harmed.)
A couple weeks ago, I was escorting a man in the deserted upstairs hallways of the building where I worked. He was irritable, but that quickly turned to anger. He started yelling at me. Then, while yelling at me, suddenly he was holding an Xacto knife (American translation: box cutter) in his right hand, the blade exposed. “I’m not brandishing this,” he yelled, and then continued to yell, the knife exposed, until he turned his back to walk away and I darted behind a locked door and burst into tears.
The man would later appear incredulous and incensed at my (mis)interpretation of events: “I told her I wasn’t brandishing the knife!?” And I felt especially bad, because he’s gay, and it was Pride Week, and the whole situation felt very awkward - which just goes to show that even traditionally victimized people can be terrifying when holding knives whilst yelling at people. (...Progress towards equality? Yay?)
When relaying the tale to other staff members, both immediately and in the week that followed, all made attempts to be supportive, most of them genuine and heartfelt, some above and beyond. The only exception was a woman who found herself with two conflicting thoughts which could not, to her, coexist: the man was nice and she liked him vs. the man was holding a knife while yelling at Ivy.
I, too, liked the man - a little less so, now, but I wished him no ill will. I knew this action was out of character - dramatically so - and that it was proceeded by several months of declining mental health. But when I tried relaying that the man must have pulled out the knife (as he had not previously been holding it) and that the blade was exposed, this coworker interrupted:
“No.” She said. “Just - no. I can’t believe that happened.”
I’d encountered this same attitude when a former coworker slash former mutual friend had begun hitting on me and, after I declined, repeatedly yelled at me and behaved in a generally jerkish and intimidating manner. Despite admitting to having witnessed his yelling at me, she emphatically proclaimed that he didn’t really mean it, that I had misinterpreted everything, and while she was sad I felt that way, he was such a nice guy and he would never do anything to anybody.
She also said his yelling at me was kind of my own fault for not having responded to an email he sent me wherein he said that he was sorry that my stepfather had died.
Whatever cognitive dissonance was occurring, it seemed to be about accepting that nice people sometimes do shitty things - that we, as adults, as people, are capable of hurting those around us. The response to which doesn’t have to be self hatred and flagellation, even - only acceptance and, maybe, hopefully, learning and attempts at reparation. And probably a stoppage to the yelling and wielding of knives. If that's okay.
...Please stop yelling at me.
...Please stop yelling at me.