I was on my cell the other day, pacing down a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn side-street on a lovely Tuesday afternoon. As I meandered from one side of the street to the other, I heard a V8 engine growl. A brand-new, black BMW 7-series was barreling straight toward me.
While physics has other ideas, I felt like I could crush this wannabe speed-racer and teach him a lesson about safe driving. He approached doing about 50 mph. I stayed in the street and stuck my foot out like I was going to kick his car, asserting my pedestrian power.
Kicking cars is a recurrent act that has resulted in one outright assault and several near-misses. In truth, I am not that tough. However my aversion to combat is often overshadowed by my righteousness.
Anyway, seconds after my air-kick, the dude (and you know it’s a dude), screeches to halt, backs up, stops the car, and starts shouting at me out of his window. I hope he doesn’t have a gun.
“You do not kick my fucking car, motherfucker,” followed by additional, threatening oration that more or less built on this initial thesis.
“You were doing 70 mph and could have hit me,” I replied.
He let off a few more expletives and started to drive away. I took out a pen and paper to write down his license plate number. He saw this and didn’t like it. He stopped again, got out of the car, and got in my face.
“You taking down my license motherfucker?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You do not want to fuck with me.” This comment had more than a whiff of truth. Here was a guy, one I imagined to be of Italian-American ancestry, who had the diction of a high school dropout yet was driving an $80K car and outfitted with the accoutrement suggesting he bought the car (Persol glasses, Rolex, well-fitting jeans). I imagined his last name to be Gotti or Gambino.
“You do not want to fuck with me,” he reiterated. “What you jus’ move to this neighborhood, motherfucker? I was born and raised here motherfucker. Get the fuck outta here.”
While I hadn’t ‘just’ moved here, I was indeed relatively new to the neighborhood, and I did not think this was a very nice welcome from a local. And while I believed he was born and raised here, I wondered why he had a Pennsylvania plate (I assumed because insurance is a lot cheaper in PA. Smart move). I decided to table that question.
He got right in my face. “You do not want to fuck with me. You do not want trouble.”
The Oscar for best portrayal of a tough-guy goes to David Friedlander. As he stood inches away, I didn’t move. I had a relaxed stance, with my chest out. I didn’t move my arms. My unblinking eyes locked on his.
We were both lucky. I was in a very clear state that day. Though I didn’t say it, he was not going to fuck with me. I wasn’t going to let him put me in a bad mood.
When he said, ‘You do not want trouble,’ it was an opening. I replied, “You’re right, I don’t want trouble. So can I make a request?”
“No motherfucker, you cannot make a fuckin’ request.”
“Can I make a request?” I spoke calmly, flatly.
“Fuck you. Get the fuck out of my neighborhood.” He had moved back toward the driver seat.
“Can I make a request?”
“What? What’s your fucking request asshole,” he relented.
“Can I ask you to drive slower through this neighborhood? You were driving way too fast and it’s not safe.”
“Thank you,” he said sincerely, if slightly confused. He was still riled up, but it was more physiological than emotional. This guy was warming up to me in a big way.
I shook his pinky-ringed hand through his sunroof and he drove off (a bit too fast for my liking, but what could I do?).
I guarantee that most everyone who comes in contact with this guy holds him as an angry, scary motherfucker. To them, that’s who he is. And rightfully so. He holds himself as an angry, scary motherfucker. But that’s not who he is. It’s how he acts. It’s his way of operating in the world. A way that got him a pretty fancy car. A way that will give him a heart attack at 50.
I held him in a different place. I held him as a reasonable guy and I didn’t stop holding him there until he showed up as reasonable.
Most of us buy people’s story of themselves. Such-and-such is depressed, angry, spacey, unreliable, etc. We don’t even give them the opportunity to be whole or great. Even though my kicking thing was pretty juvenile, when I found myself in contact with him, I held him to a standard completely different than who he was being in that moment.
If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.
Do you want to transform a relationship? Is someone bothering you? Here are a few suggestions:
- Take 100% responsibility for all of your relationships. This might be hard for some of us. You think, “but you don’t know _____. He/she’s such an asshole.” Think about it this way, there are a lot of assholes in the universe that don’t bother you. Due to proximity, you’ve chosen this one person to be asshole-supreme. It’s not about him or her. He or she is just doing his or her thing. It’s your perception that their thing is wrong that is problematic.
- Do not be enrolled by their state. This means not feeding into a negative pattern. Do not respond angrily to anger. Depressed to depression. And so forth.
- Do not speak into unreal problems. For example, if someone is feeling hopeless, do not talk about why they should not be hopeless. This is tricky for many of us problem-solvers. The problem is that when we come up with solutions, it affirms there’s a real problem. Keep quiet. Or listen for openings—something he or she says that is not rooted in limitation and brokenness; speak to that alone.
- Hold people to their greatness. Look at people free of their limitations—their anger, loneliness, carelessness, etc.—and treat them in accordance with that free state. This sometimes takes imagination, but it can be done.