I shared something with someone on Friday morning that I hadn’t been able to share a week ago. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t share it with anyone. Embarrassment? Incomprehension? But it came pouring out in true Jen style, as much a surprise to me as it was to my unsuspecting audience.
A week ago I went to a busy shopping park (too many people, not enough parking spaces). It became clear, after driving round for 25 minutes trying to find a space, that everyone was a little fraught (me included). So, I went from car park to car park, blue, to green, to red and back, twenty cars in every direction on the same mission as me; this was not going to be a quick trip.
Then it happened.
I’ve been told (several times) that I drive “like a man”(‘Confidently’, I’d say, which is not gender specific as far as I’m aware…) Anyway. I was a little proactive at a roundabout, the car started to stall and, rather than stopping, I juddered, put the foot down and went through. I, regrettably, cut someone off (I hold my hands up) but this situation was not helped by a car being in the wrong lane and changing direction at the very moment that I pushed on through. Anyway…so, brakes were pressed (not screeched) hand gestures were made, I waved apologies all round, and off I went to resume my hunt for a space. A situation I have been on the other end of lots of times but the perpetrator of rarely, if ever.
After a while, I noticed the wee convertible from the roundabout was still behind me. Huh. Probably looking in all the same places as me for a space. Another twenty minutes and that wee car is still behind me. Huh. Weird. And slightly unsettling.
In all honesty, I was not having a good day: I had spent the best part of an hour looking for parking space, I felt untidy and drab (vain, yes), and I had fallen out with my daughter in the front seat for various reasons (she’s nearly 18, take your pick). It was time to abandon the search. One last attempt perhaps on the surrounding streets of the shopping park, then admit defeat and head for home.
So I left the shopping ‘park’ (no connotations of fun, interestingly). And so did the wee convertible. I pulled into a side-street and did a U-turn. So did the convertible. I went round a roundabout twice. As did the convertible. Yep, this was happening. I had decided that we were driving home, but knew that there was no way I could drive the country road home with a teenage daughter in the front and an angry convertible at my back. What if it followed me to my door? Whole different ballgame. So I double-backed and, with my rear view company, headed back to the busy car park.
When I was finally forced to stop I had been followed for around half and hour, maybe longer. When she knocked at my window smiling, motioning me to come out the car, I declined, but I did open my door. Her intention was to hospitalize me (I know this because she told me) and for her to do the time in jail (also shared). I was calm, apologetic and measured. And I’m pretty sure that was the one thing that soothed the situation. Had I got out that car…I’m not so sure.
But a lot struck me about the situation.
To follow someone for (wrongly, I accept it was my mistake, an error in judgement) cutting you up at a roundabout , to stay so angry that half an hour of driving around still incites feelings of rage and violence, to think nothing of such confrontation in front of my daughter and the 3 year old girl in the front seat of her car, in front of a car park full of people…well…I just can’t relate to that kind of thinking at all.
But I think this one act, this one decision made by the driver I wronged, is becoming the norm. It’s been a troubling few weeks. The ‘good news’ stories reported on the news are few and far between and the media seem, instead, to be careering from one act of violence to another.
I have come to believe that I am fairly strong (inside and out) but this shook me. I made a quick assessment of size and weight and decided that, yes, if push came to shove (no pun intended), I could physically handle myself here. Taekwon Do (despite my lack of training recently), daily cardio and weight training would allow me a physical advantage, but can you account for the strength of blind rage, fury and pure intent to harm? I’m unconvinced.
I just couldn’t let it lie when I came home. I kept going over it in my head. What if she had got the father or mother (or both) of the niece on the phone and they arrived on the scene? What if she had laid a hand on me – would I have fought back as well as I know I could in front of a small child and my own daughter, or would I have tried to just hold her off? Would I want my daughter to see me further emasculated (this is exactly how I felt and there does not appear to be any female alternative other than ‘defeminize’ or ‘defeminate’, which is not indicative of power and strength in my book ), or would I want her to see me fighting? Well…neither.
And then I came this scenario: Had she felt the need to follow me for half and hour, for there to be no dissipation in her rage, for her to express her indifference to a jail sentence for “justice” for my careless driving and had we been living in America…well…shit. *Bang*
And the irony of this thought was not lost on me hours later, as an innocent, talented young 22 year old woman was shot signing autographs for fans following a concert in Orlando. Her killer, fuelled by obsession and desire, unable to have her so no-one would; Inflamed by rage and the accessibility of a fire-arm.
It could be any 22 year old on any given day when you have a surge of emotion and a gun to aid the removal of any rational thought.
The following day, 49 people (50 if you include the gunman) died in a horrific attack that lasted several hours, in an environment that is the very embodiment of freedom, of love and acceptance. A literal and metaphorical ‘safe space’. But not on June 12th. On June 12th it became the literal and metaphorical embodiment of pure hatred, bias and prejudice (religious, national or sexual orientation. Does it matter?).
But this is not America, right? Since March 13th, 1996, the United Kingdom has had a unified and tenacious approach to firearms – Not here; not ever. We learned our lesson that day in Dunblane. We would never allow such atrocity, such annihilation of innocent life be taken from us again. We would learn from our mistakes, we would stand firm and we would be a country free from guns and violence.
Idyllic, isn’t it?
Tell that to the family of Jo Cox. Mr Mair had no gun licence, no permit. What he had apparently was a hand made fire arm, self-made with the assistance of a book teaching him how to do it. And he took her life. He stole her from her children, while stealing so much of their childhood in return; He left a husband without a wife; He left parents without a daughter. He changed lives when he took her life, none for the better. She was kicked, stabbed and shot. With or without the gun, he was going to kill her. But, as a nation who defy guns, the fact that she was shot in the street was difficult for us to comprehend, because it is beyond comprehension that anyone could so violently kill this young mother and advocate of peace and equality.
But, in the savagery of the attack, the gunshot has become almost a side issue as hatred and prejudice become the main talking points and the enormity and significance of the murder of the MP have become lesser issues. The reasons he may have had, the attempts to justify this act of life-changing and life-ending violence, the political mud-slinging and the bizarre questioning by people “how could her family publicly speak and appear so composed so soon after her brutal murder…?” *judgement* And this shows just how much we are changing, becoming less shocked by the violence itself and more vocal about the motives, more vocal about the poise and grace of those left behind, about family backgrounds About everything.
Hatred; anger; racism; bigotry; prejudice; extreme nationalism; ignorance; lack of empathy; lack of compassion; blame – oh, and some funny memes about Bill Cosby, and Brock Turner that fathers of daughters (and sons) find hilarious… The world of the internet offers them all. Have you ever read something on social media – a link to a newspaper article, a blog, a photograph even – that has been shared or read by thousands of people? And once you’ve seen it, have you ever started to read through the thread of comments? If ever there was a scary insight into humanity, it’s right there.
A 2 year old lost his wee life last week in a freak accident in Florida as he played by the water in a Disney resort. Did the parents expect an Alligator to come out of the water and take him away? Of course not. But if you read anything about it on-line, people are speculating about the fact that his parents have police records, and therefore should not have been allowed to be parents in the first place – some people are even demanding that the records be published to “let people decide for themselves.” Decide what exactly…? They are being held completely responsible for the death of their son. I have seen the word “dumbass” and “moron” more times than I can count when referring to the grieving parents. There are much worse but I refuse to share them. Apparently everyone knew that an Alligator would come out the water and take the child. (except the multi-billion pound company of Disney.. .) I have seen very little support or sympathy for the family of the dead boy. Just name-calling, ridicule and blame (and even the odd “lol” at the end of comments. Because there’s always room for an “lol” when a 2 year old dies tragically…)
But this is the way the world is going. This utter lack of empathy and compassion is the norm on the internet. It is almost sport to comment the most offensive, prejudice and hateful comments on anything that is published and there is absolutely no accountability for it at all. You are an unknown with a screen and a keyboard. Who cares about these strangers?
And it is spreading like poison. Compassion and empathy are being replaced by toxicity and cruelty. Images and videos of Katie Prices’s blind and disabled son Harvey are shared thousand of times by young people every day who use him as a very public object of ridicule; photographs of strangers are taken without their knowledge or consent and shared thousands of times captioned “state of that…” (Someone I know took a photograph of a young woman, minding her own business, having a cup of tea, and breastfeeding her baby in a shopping centre and shared it on social media because it was “disgusting”…); Vegans are told to “die” regularly online, because they believe (ironically) that all life is equal and should be respected. The list goes on.
Respect is lost online. Too many people choose not to put themselves into the shoes of others and instead sit on high horses of their own creation, feeling superior as they hide behind the anonymity of the screen. And, at some point, this behaviour will no longer be confined to the screen and will become a way of life. We talk about ‘cyber-bullying’ to our young people, but what about the adults who should know better? These are educated, professional people – the internet has no class boundaries when it comes to a belief system,. It’s a bit like football and being united through a team; the power of the crowd, according to Le Bon (not Simon). And what happens when people no longer ‘know better’? Because I think we are heading there.
Yet again a trip to the cinema today led to frustration as a group of boys around 16 talked, burped and misbehaved though the film. When they were eventually (and very politely) asked by a woman in front of them to “please keep it down a little”, she was met with a vitriol of personal abuse. Such instant volatility over a reasonable request to be considerate of others was very telling, as was the fact that nobody weighed in to support her.
And this takes me back to my point about my road-rager. I am certain that, as a society, we have changed our boundaries about what is acceptable. That we have become much angrier, much more confrontational and much more willing to act without considering what effect our words or actions could have. Was my daughter affected by the exchange? Yes. Was the young girl in the front seat of her car? I’d say yes What are we teaching our next generation about the acceptable way to react to situations? That anger is always the way?
People have become entirely desensitised to violence and hatred. We are no longer shocked and affected emotionally for any length of time by violent acts. The world is changing. We are tearing each other apart with words, inciting so much hatred and anger through a screen that it consumes people to the point of action.
Guns are not the problem. People are.