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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cheek turning

So you all know that I am a man of faith. Not very strong or deep faith, 'cause I'm not very consistent with it. I'm what is technically known as a hypocrite...sometimes. What can I tell you? The closest I'll ever come to walking on water is ice skating at Rockefeller Center in the winter.

One concept of faith that I've never been able to fully embrace though is the turning of the other cheek. I've heard minister after minister exhort their congregations to turn the other cheek, because allegedly that's what Jesus would do if offended.

But I'm not buying it. I've written before that we only have two cheeks...above the waist, and once I've turned that pair I'll no longer be conciliatory over a particular issue. I can't. Beyond my two above waist cheeks, I have the other pair, the pair that helps hold up my pants. And if I turn that pair, I'm likely to get kicked in 'em.

I'm rambling on about all this, because I am engaging in a real-time experiment of the appropriate way to react to that second cheek being slapped.

When I walked out to my car yesterday after work, I noticed a red Firebird/Trans Am parked next to my passenger side. It hadn't been there when I got to work Tuesday morning. As I got closer to open the front passenger door and insert my bag, I noticed an inch-long scratch on the door and red paint.

I stepped back and took a wider look. The Firebird was parked over the yellow line, partially in my space. I didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what had happened.

If this had been the first time I'd gotten a scratch, or the first time I'd gotten a scratch at work, or the first time I'd gotten a scratch from this particular car I might have had a different reaction.

But, believe it or not, two months ago when I was driving a rental car while mine was in the shop, I arrived at work, and parked next to this exact same car. When I left the office at the end of the day, I noticed the Firebird's driver about 30 yards ahead of me. By the time I reached my car, he was in his and approaching the exit to the parking lot. When I made it to my rental there was a huge ding in the driver's door. And there was red paint in that huge ding. I tried to wave down Firebird guy, but he was out of the lot and on his way and either didn't see me or didn't care to stop.

What are the odds? So I sort of know who the guy is. I don't know his name yet. But I see him all the time driving up to the office with the T-tops off, bumping Night at the Roxbury music and bobbing his head in kind.

I've never spoken to him - not so much as eye contact and a head nod, or a simple "hello."

But now I'm going to talk to him.

I alerted the security boss, 'cause I want there to be a record in case I'm unlucky enough to find the only parking space left some day in the future is next to Firebird guy. But I told the security boss I don't want any formal reports that I can take to an insurance agent. I'm not looking for money. I don't want anything tangible from this guy. I good bit of Carnauba wax and some elbow grease, and I'll be able to buff out this latest scratch. I just want to talk to the guy.

So I've been mulling this morning over what I want to say when I meet the door dinger.

There are two incarnations of old James. There is the incarnation that would have turned the other cheek and dismissed it as no big deal. There is the incarnation that would have raged over the incident and walked around with a vein bulging out the side of his neck. That second incarnation may have also planted a penalty shot-worthy kick on Firebird guy's car.

Relatively new James is going to compromise though. I'm not turning anymore cheeks. 'Nuff of that. And I'm not boiling over. I'm getting old. I have to watch my blood pressure.

So I think when I get the guy's ID and find out what department he works in later this afternoon, I'll just introduce myself, explain to him that he's hit my car twice with his car door in recent months, that there is overwhelming evidence against him, so he shouldn't even try to deny it, and that he needs to be a little more careful when he opens his car doors.

And I'll even say it without swearing...I think. I may ask him what the "hell" is wrong with him, but I'll only take that tone if he cops attitude with me.

So that's my social/psych/faith/cheek-turning experiment - shaming the perpetrator. I'll report back later on how it went.

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23 Comments:

  • Sounds like a great plan! Can't wait to hear how it turns out. Sometimes that is really all it takes, just bringing an issue to someones attention.
    I think I'd want to have a little fun first... like smearing the door handle with vasoline or something? A well placed roofing nail under a tire or two... okay, okay, just kidding on that one. :(

    By Blogger CrystalChick, at 1:30 PM  

  • Crystalchick, I confess it crossed my mind to do something to the Firebird. Like I said, one version of Old James probably would have kicked that car, after the second scratch/ding. But we have cameras outside the building at the Miami Herald. And I'm too pretty to go to jail. And besides that, in case my mother is reading, even if there were no cameras outside the building and I could do something to that car without getting caught, I wouldn't 'cause that would be wrong ;>)

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:35 PM  

  • Sounds like the right approach to me. You're acting like a rational adult. If the driver does have an attitude problem, however, then I would come down on him like a load of bricks, but in a legal manner.

    By Blogger BobG, at 2:32 PM  

  • Let us know how it goes. My upstairs neighbors keep sounding like they are dragging furniture across the floor and I am getting heartily sick of it...but I'm worried to confront them because I might go off...

    By Blogger Claudia, at 2:48 PM  

  • BobG, I'm still waiting to meet the guy. I'm on deadline writing a story this afternoon. But I can wait. He'll be here tomorrow, and if I wait outside the building for him I'm sure I'll here that "A Night at the Roxbury" soundtrack coming a half mile way. But I promise I only plan to talk to him.

    Claudia, I'll let you know. I don't blame you for being cautious. Never know when one of your neighbors is gonna be psycho. Of course, you could argue that about your co-workers too. So I'll be careful, as well.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 5:32 PM  

  • I urge you to reconsider.

    For the effort that you make the best thing that you can get out of the situation is a half hearted apology.

    Is the half hearted apology worth it? I say no.

    Because then you have to look at the worse case scenario.

    What if the guy turns into a psychopath? Follows you out of the lot one day to where you live. Causes a scene at work that makes your employer cast their eyes on you as a troublemaker (we know you aren't, but employers can be fickle)

    I just don't think it's worth the effort or the grief.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 6:23 PM  

  • WavemanCali, all good points. I'll reconsider. But I'm a reporter. I guarantee you I'll know where he lives before he knows where I live.

    Not that I have any intention of visiting him.

    But your point is well-taken. You really don't know who's a nutcase these days and who's sane - not until someone snaps anyway. So just in case this guy is the former and not the latter, I'll try not to trigger nutification point.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 6:43 PM  

  • James,

    I have heard the most leftist, pacifist scholar (you know -- the one who boycotts Taco Bell on behalf of tomato pickers) preach that the whole turn the other cheek is not about being a doormat for whatever treatment someone wants to give you but was in fact a form of non-violent resistance. There is something about how you would backhand your inferiors and hit your peers with the open palm and by turning the other cheek, you forced your oppressor to hit you with the other side of the hand and acknowledge a different status. Something like that. There is stuff on The Google about it.

    By Anonymous class factotum, at 9:37 PM  

  • I'm rooting for your approach. I hate the thought that we live in a society that has evolved to a point where we need to be afraid of each other and the extremes we might take with each other. That doesn't mean those extremes don't happen; it's my hope they are infrequent. If they are the norm, we're in more trouble than we all realize.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 10:59 PM  

  • choosing your battles is most difficult.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 11:07 PM  

  • Thanks, Monty. I agree. If you can't talk to someone without fearing for your life in every single situation, that sucks.

    Pamela, I agree. But I think I don't choose enough. I need to make "fighting" more of a habit.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:10 AM  

  • james, to be honest the guy dinged your door twice, so he should pay for a new paint job on your ride. people today have zero shame for the most part. its true. look at how peole get rich or famous or obtain politcal power in this country. they act shemelessly. it's sad but its true. the guy who dings a door probably isn't going to give a poop about the damage he did to your door when you shame him.

    By Anonymous murph, at 1:15 AM  

  • James, make sure who's your friend and who's your ally at the company first. It's always good to know these things eh.

    By Blogger Robert Shapiro, at 5:54 AM  

  • Actually James, I think you have the concept of "turning the other cheek" figured out here -with your plan on how to handle this recent incident. As someone above here commented about this directive NOT meant for us to become doormats, but rather to exercise rational, calm, good judgement -just not going for the jugular at every sudden move ya know. Whether the other guy gets the message -well, that remains to be seen but you most likely will feel better and especially for having gone about the whole issue without being a revenge-seeking lunatic or anything even close to that.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 7:12 AM  

  • Good for you - I'll be back to hear the rest of the story.

    By OpenID jalishouse, at 9:31 AM  

  • Turn the other cheek. And pee on his door handle.

    By Anonymous og, at 10:44 AM  

  • I think it's a good plan. But I'll be real surprised if he takes the conversation well.

    By Blogger That Dude, at 11:40 AM  

  • Murph, one of my buddies said the same thing as you. He said I should forget the philosophical approach and just insist the guy pay for a professional repair. Hmmm. Maybe.

    Robert, that is always nearly impossible to tell. I mean this guy isn't a big boss or anything. And since I don't know much about him yet, I don't know if he golfs on weekends with bosses or anything. On the other hand, all the VIPs at my company have a special parking lot. This guy parks in one of the peon lots along with me, so he can't be that powerful.

    Jeni, you're right. The proverbial cheek is a "shield" from snap judgement. Good call. Still, I wish I could get away with something.

    Jali, hopefully I'll have some resolution on this today.

    Og, if I turn the cheek again I'm gonna leave something more hefty than pee on his door handle.

    That Dude, you're probably right. He won't like it. Who likes being scolded? But maybe he'll be man enough to own up and apologize.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:57 PM  

  • James, I'm dying to find out how this went! I think your approach is solid, really. You're not going to freak out, but you're not going to sit idly by. I think small societal ills (like car denting/scratching from carelessness, littering, rude public behavior, taking up 2 seats with one ass on the subway, etc.) are allowed to perpetuate because most people do nothing.

    Saying something to an offender isn't inflammatory - it's kind of a social responsibility. No malice needs to be intended, but people can't keep getting away with triflin' shiz just because we're too timid or "cheek turny" to say anything. This world is ours while we're here and since we're all way more connected than most like to believe we should look out for one another - this includes stopping foolishness before it affects someone else.

    C'mon... how did it go????

    By Blogger Melissa, at 1:54 PM  

  • Actually, you took the high, high road.

    In that situation, I might have scratched his car in return. If this man is not retarded, he will thank you for taking the high road. You're doing him a favor.

    By Blogger M@, at 9:26 PM  

  • That's mighty evolved of you.

    By Blogger M@, at 9:26 PM  

  • Sounds like a perfectly reasonable response, James. Interested to hear what happens next.

    Cos if firebird guy gives you grief - then he's still immature, & immaturity of that kind, in adults, should be DISCOURAGED!

    As for turning the other cheek, watched a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr the other day, which might put the car ding kinda in perspective?

    By Blogger Bronchitkat, at 6:51 AM  

  • Melissa, I have no update yet. We've had a hard time catching up with the guy. I was out of the newsroom pretty much all of yesterday. And he always parks in the same lot at work. His car wasn't there when I got here this morning. Will update when I catch up with him.

    M@, I'm no saint. I wanted to take a lower road. But I'm experimenting with good sense.

    Bronchitikat, you're right about perspective. In the grand scheme of things this isn't the hugest deal. But, on the other hand, if we dismissed all but the most serious offenses, then the offensive among us would literally get away with everything short of murder.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:10 AM  

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