Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Interpersonal Oddities and Other Fun Pursuits

When I arrived at work this morning, it was business as usual. I had to ask one of the supervisors (The Fly) a question, because he is the only individual who has the information at hand to be able to answer the question... nothing earth shattering, or difficult, or stressful; just a mundane question that had to be run past him.

Somewhat to my surprise, he completely came out of his tree. Over the top. He started screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red, with veins popping out all over, and spit flying... his hands were like claws, and he backhanded his full cup of coffee off of the counter onto the floor, then ripped it off of the ground and slam-dunked it into the garbage can, spraying the vicinity with coffee....all the while screaming obscenities at me.

Now. I know it was early, and that these questions can be somewhat tedious, but this isn't what this was about. I have no earthly idea what it was about, but it had nothing to do with the question, and certainly nothing to do with me, (other than that he may simply not like me to begin with, which is fine with me... I don't particularly like him either... though I have to admit that that is like saying I don't like cardboard. It's just cardboard... what's to like or not to like??!!)

I had no reaction, either internal or external, to this tirade, other than to politely wait until he was quite done, and then to turn and go back to what I was doing before I received the telephone call that prompted the question.

Obviously, trying to figure this out is like trying to assemble a 1000 piece crossword puzzle with only 700 pieces; it doesn't really matter how skillful you are at it, you simply can't put a jigsaw puzzle together without all of the pieces. Period. I am confident that there are quite a few pieces left out of this puzzle.

As the day wore on, I turned this over in my mind, and began to wonder at everybody's response to the outburst. I had none whatsoever. Other folks in the vicinity, employees and customers alike, stood and looked, and waited for it to end in some way, and then they just went back to what they were doing. I could tell that everyone was uncomfortable, because I am extremely sensitive to what is going on in other people in that way... not so sensitive in some other ways, I can be downright dense, in fact, but in areas where I am observant and attentive, I don't miss much.. or, I have never received any information that would illustrate that I miss much at least.... everybody was uncomfortable for some time.

Mostly, once he regained control of himself, everyone basically acted as though nothing had happened, outwardly, but they were much more subdued than is usual, so I can tell that inwardly it was quite a different story.

This led me to muse over what we do when social rules break down, even temporarily. It's sort of odd if you think about it, but when our rules, whatever they may be, are breached, we generally act very strangely, and not at all in ways that we think we would act.

I have seen photos of people running for their lives from lava, tidal waves, or other threats, and many of them are laughing, or appear to be laughing. Some just stand there docilely and watch.

I had no reaction, other than my brain kicking in and poking at this from every angle for a while. Eventually, I simply let it go, other than as an interesting topic to write about (or perhaps not so interesting... my counter will let me know I suppose... sigh).

The Fly approached me about 45 minutes later and apologized for freaking out on me. I told him not to worry about it, and said that I was sure he had a lot going on.

It makes for an awkward day though....

I would like to hear what some of you do when faced with a situation that breaks all the rules. Did you react in a way that was surprising?? What happened?? What did you do?? Send me some comments.... I'm curious!


this_is_mine said...

I used to have a bad temper. I know I am still quite young, but I am getting better, this is good. There's no need to get worked up over the little things.

I used to work at an Arby's in Niagara Falls (my home town). I was promotted to supervisor my last year before going to school.

Customers start yelling at you about the stupidest things. It would get me all worked up and I would start yelling back... I have since learned to just take it and got on with it. It isn't worth it. I now find outbursts like this entertaining more than anything.

People get surprised when I blow up now. Thats a good thing because it doesen't happen very often.

I now see that it is best to just let things calmn down before addressing the issues. That way you are less likely to say something you don't mean.

I don't know if that answers your question. But I have learned there are a lot of stupid people out there. Let them have the stress heart attacks, it's not worth it.

Bear said...

I'm sure that when someone blows their top, they feel that its justified, but in my opinion, it is very rare that this helps the situation in any way.

In this instance, his reaction was way out of proportion with the circumstances. We have had no sort of personal dynamic going on that was building pressure, the question was run-of-the-mill, and doesn't seem like a trigger to me... I'm clueless about what set him off.

My guess is that he something else going on in his life, and, being only human, simply came to the end of his rope and freaked out. I would prefer it if I hadn't been the subject of his anger, but, thats the way it panned out, and no harm done in the long run.

I am just curious about my own reaction, which was complete nothingness. I felt nothing, I said nothing, I did nothing. No response. Zero. I was about as dispassionate as though I were watching a stanger walking down the sidewalk. I'm sure that this was some type of stress reaction on my part, even though I didn't feel stressed at the time.

Everyone else did more or less the same thing. And I could tell by their behavior afterwards that internally, they were still stuck on what had happened and were thinking about it.

Its weird how we react to things that are outside the normal scope of our exerience and our pre-set rules.

When you lose your temper, how do other folks react?? Do they get angry right back, or do they leave, do they get quiet... what do they do?

this_is_mine said...

My anger was usually brought on by someone else's anger. So usually there was already at least one other angry person there.

Now I just do the same thing you do. Just be very passive. It's almost like dealing with a little kid. Reacting just encourages the behaviour.

Tish Grier said...

Working retail, I get my share of people blowing up in my face on a regular basis--including one woman who came in twice one day to berate myself and my staff on why the company no longer carries a certain kind of stick-on bra she always wore.

I can usually tell if it's a person having a bad day or if it is someone trying to scam on the store. The bad day people I shrug off, the others...well, we've agreed if they get hyper-huffy to just give them what they want (as the company doesn't back up their return policy anyway)...

Usually, when the blow-up is happening, I kind of shut down, as you did, Bear, but later it comes back on me. Sometimes I get the shakes. Sometimes I blow-up myself--but only much, much later. If the person apologizes, I don't have a problem forgiving him/her. We all have bad moments--we are all human.

Bear said...

Hey guys,

What I found to most curious about the whole dynamic was the strange way that the people who were witnessing the meltdown responded...

Its relatively easy to fathom how someone will lose their cool and bug out over a small thing... obviously, there are other factors in play, which most likely cannot be addressed, so they attack the small things in order to assert some degree of control in their lives, or at least to feel as though they have some small measure of control.

Everybody would like to think that they control their own destiny at least a little, I would think.

What is really odd though, is the way the bystanders will react to this sort of outburst. Next time you see any situation that has gone beyond the pale of what our societal rules allow for, instead of watching the main star of the show... look at the supporting actors and the extras. We are, at that moment, quite obviously primates. We look every bit like a troop of baboons watching two of thier own kind fight to the death. Its creepy.

What is creepier, is to react that way instinctively, and realize that you are doing it, and still stay on the same pathway....

We have become so accustomed to following our own rules, that when someone breaches them, we are left at a loss as to what to do...

Obviously, you can simply break the rules too and attack.. but, most often, we don't. We do a different thing, and I'm not sure what its called. But, to me at least, its offers an intersting insight into our humanity... or something else.

For me, unless someone puts their hands upon me or one of my loved ones, or anyone that I consider to be part of my circle or otherwise under my protection, or deserving to be so.. i.e., a small child, an elderly person, a female being attacked by a male, etc., I generally don't respond much at all. I may try to diffuse the situation, If I am able to get a word in edgewise, but usually, in this type of situation, the dynamic happens so incredibly fast that you don't really have much time to do anything but observe and react to what is coming at you.. whatever that turns out to be...

When somebody does decide to express their stupidity and touch me, in a threatening manner, or, do the same to others... I react in an entirely different manner. In that circumstance, I am very decisive and very direct, and generally take the initiative. I am not a violent person by nature, but, by the same token, I won't allow someone to hurt me or mine. Period.

Screaming, name calling, damaging property, and all that crap... I basically just tolerate and hope it ends so that I can recapture my peace of mind as quickly as possible.

I draw the line at threats of physical harm, however. That's just me. It happens very rarely, happily, but, any time it ever does, I am confident that I will be able to take charge of the situation and impose my will if need be. Whatever form that takes. It generally isn't my choice as I am then forced to respond to whatever silliness the antagonist wishes to inflict upon me, or upon some other hapless victim.

I just hope that it isn't all macho bullshit that I am expressing... in any case, even if it is, the safety of my loved ones and myself come first, no matter what. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Thanx for the comments, by the way... You guys are great!