Citizen Chronicles™, Chapter Three

I was on a mission to shop as quickly as possible at Trader Joe’s. (An impossible goal, but try and tell a Taurus she can’t move mountains.) I got there soon after they opened, the only way to insure smaller crowds. As I swooped through the automatic doors, I was forced to a dead halt by a women who was pulling a shopping cart out into the middle of the next doorway and parking it there. She proceeded to begin hunting through the huge bag she had with her, blocking the doorway with no visible sign that she intended to make room for any other human being. I managed to squeeze past her on one side, as she appeared completely oblivious to both me and my struggle to enter the store. “Bitch!” I couldn’t stop my inner voice from shrieking as I successfully gained entry despite her. As I hunted through the packages of romaine lettuce, I immediately started talking myself back from my negativity, acknowledging that she might be having a really bad day or hung over or sleep deprived and truly clueless to the effects of her behavior. A minute or two later, when I left the lettuce section to continue my pursuit of food, I looked back to see if she was still in the doorway. She was, still solidly parked center entrance, still hunting through that big bag, with a growing line of people behind her. (Were they more patient than I was, or just less agile?)
I was no longer annoyed as I noted that everything about her body language said that she felt invisible and powerless and was afraid she would disappear if she couldn’t make somebody acknowledge her existence. How long ago had she decided that the only way to do that was to be a nuisance to other people? Why had she negated everything about herself except her ability to be obnoxious? How often have I felt like that? OOPS!

Then I remembered that the first citizen encounter I wrote about for the this series also happened at Trader Joe’s. Was it just a coincidence? Here’s my theory so far. Trader Joe’s seriously works at customer service and creating a positive shopping environment for its customers. Even when they are very crowded, the lines move quickly and there are store employees throughout the store to help customers (which they actually do, and cheerfully). Most customers are on their best behavior BUT it creates a soft, pleasant environment which makes dysfunctional people feel safe and simultaneously gives them a perfect blank slate on which to put their anger, fear, and despair. Like people who trample on flowers in public parks or leave fast food trash in beautifully planted window boxes to ruin other people’s enjoyment of them, these dys-integrated beings can’t tolerate other people’s serenity and centeredness. They must feel anxiety, or at least annoyance, resonating around them in order to feel included.

This line of thought brought me to the next question. Is this tendency becoming viral? Will more people be sucked into the belief that being recognized for negative behavior is easier than continuing to compete for attention by putting their best foot forward? Is it viral already? Is it the real cause of all the nasty gossip that thrives in e-land? Make everyone as miserable as they are? Misery loves company? Can we stop it? Not easily. Acknowledging people who are behaving badly only reinforces that behavior, even if one is trying to talk them into a better place. Chastising them for their behavior also gives them a reward. Ignoring them stimulates their need for attention and escalates the obnoxious behavior. Waiting for them to do something positive and giving them positive feedback about it doesn’t work most of the time either, because most dys-integrated beings don’t have enough self-esteem to accept positive feedback. They dismiss it.

So what’s the solution? Therapists specializing in treating people who are trying to maintain their compassion in an increasingly aggressive world? Meditation centers springing up on every other street corner like Starbuck’s? Support groups for people who still believe in good manners and respect for other people? That’s partly the motivation for Citizen Chronicles™ (with a bit of my own misery-loves-company and a dash of venting thrown in). I don’t have the answer but I’m relatively certain that dialoguing about the problem can’t hurt. It’s interesting that I’ve gotten more feedback on Citizen Chronicles than I have about any thing else I’ve ever written. It’s inspired me to expand the research, to devote more time to thinking about the topic. What’s next? I’m off in search of it.

Copyright © 2010 by Anna Jedrziewski. All rights reserved.

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