Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Which I Ask You to Tell Me About Your Encounters with Incivility and How You Handled Them

So, I'm writing this play. It's about handwriting. But it's more than that. It's about civil behavior, and how the two are linked in the mind of a certain Miss Palmer, who extols a rigorous penmanship method as a solution to chronic incivility. I want to pause here to thank those of you who left comments on a previous post in which I asked you to share your stories about your own handwriting, and how you were taught. Please know that your feedback really does help my creative process. I am truly grateful when you take the time to share.

Since I've begun writing this play on handwriting/civil behavior, I've had some wacko encounters with representatives from the planet Me, and each time I am flummoxed as to how some people can be so disrespectful.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those why-can't-we-all-just-get-along screeds.

Okay, yes it is.

Because, see, there are things we can do when we encounter rude, boorish or inconsiderate behavior. In a previous post, when I told about a woman who texted throughout the performance of a play I was trying desperately to enjoy, I recommended mailing her anthrax. While effective, it is conceivable this could create more problems than it solves, and I thought maybe you could come up with better solutions.

For instance, what (if anything) would you have done in this case:

I went to the Picasso exhibit on Friday (You missed it? Oh crap, you should just kill yourself right now. I mean it.) A security guard saw my cell phone in my hand and said, "Excuse me, you do realize you can't take pictures, don't you?" I fell all over myself assuring her I wasn't taking pictures (I wasn't), and put my phone away. She thanked me. Then I thanked her for asking me so nicely.

Her posture immediately changed. She grabbed herself around her middle and i thought she was going to cry. "Thank you so much for saying that to me," she said, "because this big guy just screamed at me when I asked his mother to stop taking pictures of the exhibit. I'm still trembling. Look." Her hands were shaking. "He said, HOW DARE YOU TALK TO MY MOTHER THAT WAY. WE KNOW SO-AND-SO ON THE BOARD OF THE MUSEUM AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO! MY MOTHER CAN TAKE AS MANY PICTURES AS SHE WANTS. WHAT'S YOUR NAME? WHAT'S YOUR BADGE NUMBER!"

As she told me this, I felt my blood pressure going through the roof. "Where is he?!" I demanded. "Let me at him!" It was my plan to pretend to be an off-duty police officer and order him to stand down. If that didn't work, I was going to recite his rights (I knew those 980 episodes of Law & Order would come in handy) and order him outside, call a police cruiser, the whole bit, until I could, like, duck behind one of Picasso's WOMAN WITH BONE FOR HEAD sculptures, and slip out. Oh my, I was indignant. Every bit as indignant as he had been, and therein lies the rub. You can't counter uncivil behavior with uncivil behavior without causing an escalation. All you can do is call upon your interpersonal communication skills in order to diffuse the defensive behavior by—

—oh who am I kidding. I still want to kill the guy.

Doreen and I talked a while after that. It so happened she writes Sponge Bob episodes when she's not being verbally abused by bullies. She had worked the Picasso exhibit for 17 straight days and was in obvious need of a break. But here's the thing: the VA Museum of Fine Arts is fined by the lending institution for each illegal photo they capture on surveillance cameras. VMFA needs to pull in $5 million to break even. As of Friday, with 2 days to go, they were close. But still. You're feelin' me, right?

So here's what I invite you to do: tell me about an encounter with incivility that you've had, and how you defused/solved/escalated it, maybe what you learned in the process. It will help inform my play, and help me personally as well. I mean. I can't go around pretending to be a cop all the time. Last I looked, that will land me in the pokey faster than yelling at a museum employee. And if you don't want to write in the comment section, here's my email address: I would love to hear from you.

Thanks. I'll close with a bit of penny wisdom: be nice to people. Everyone is someone, and has a story to tell. You might even come away from an encounter a better person, unless you're a bonafide sociopath, in which case put your hands behind your back, you're under arrest.

1 comment:

  1. You need to chat with Anna-Marie Epps in the Barksdale box office. She can give you an earful!!