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Dealing with Unruly Youth
November 6, 2011 6:02 AM   Subscribe

I was harassed by some teenagers on the street and kicked one of them, how could I have handled this better?

Last night, when I was walking home from the coffee shop, three teenagers at a bus stop asked me for a dollar and I turned them down. As I started to walk away, one of them started calling me obscene names, so I turned around and confronted him. When I told him he should be careful what he says, he blew me off, so I told him I was going to take his hat as payment (which was a fancy ball cap.) When he started to fight me, I kicked him in the crotch, and all three of them started to go crazy punching me until the bus came, which was rather soon. They were scrawny kids, so mostly all it did was make me laugh, but that's beside the point.

Basically, my original intention was just to teach them a lesson in civilized behavior at my neighborhood bus stop, but I feel like I ended up being the more uncivil one myself in how I acted. I blame some of this on being in a rather poor mood last night when it happened, but that shouldn't be a reason. What could I have done differently? Or better yet, how do I interact with the unruly youth in my neighborhood without going all Charles Bronson?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (85 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Next time just keep walking.
posted by smokingmonkey at 6:07 AM on November 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


Wow. Not trying to rob the kid would be a start. You understand that you basically tried to rob this teen who broke no law? You don't get to take someone's property because they offend you with words. In my state you would be charged with at least simple robbery, a serious felony, in a heartbeat.
posted by jayder at 6:09 AM on November 6, 2011 [100 favorites]


You don't. Seriously. I teach High School, I say a lot of things to teenagers all day but the minute I step out of the building (I take the train) I am no longer an authority figure. When you turned around, you chose to escalate the situation. You should have turned the other cheek (er) and kept walking.
posted by bquarters at 6:10 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Take his hat as payment"? You don't get to take other people's property just because they were rude. Theft is a really bizarre way to teach civility. Just walk away next time. Say something if you'd like, but then walk away.
posted by Dojie at 6:10 AM on November 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


In the future you should not steal from or assault scrawny children.
posted by frobozz at 6:11 AM on November 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


What smokingmonkey said, just walk away. My only other suggestion is that, if these are kids from your neighborhood, and you're likely to see them again, try engaging them in a positive way some times.

And, you're right, your response created the problem.
posted by HuronBob at 6:11 AM on November 6, 2011


For starters, I would brush up on the laws on assault and on reasonable self-defense (hint: what you did wasn't it).

Next, I would reflect on how you could be sued, and how in that scenario you could have been killed. What if one of those scrawny boys had a knife or a gun?

If you do any study of how security professionals handle conflict (and I'm not talking about thugs that celebrities sometimes hire, the ones who get in the paper for mauling photographers), you find out there's a philosophy that if your principal gets into a confrontation, you've already lost. You've done your job poorly.

In your case, your principal is you. Don't interact with people like this. If it's a routine thing, call the cops. Consider giving the panhandler the fucking dollar, rather than get in a scrape. Change your routes if possible.

The line in the sand is fear for your life. If you legitimately have that, sure, bite, kick, gouge your way out of it. You're not their father nor a social worker. You're not going to teach anyone anything about civilized behavior out on a street.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Try and remember that they're kids, still figuring out how the world works. If you fight them, you're teaching them that grownups fight; it will make them want to fight better, not fight less. Try and be a role model. Don't treat kids like rivals.
posted by jon1270 at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Dude. Dude. You do not teach civility by ramping up to threats of theft and then actual violence. Bad mood? Do not take it out on anyone who gives you an excuse. That is uncivilised.
posted by likeso at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't engage them. It's not your job to teach them "civilized behavior," and I don't know what you, as a stranger on the street, could have said that would change what is likely a deeply entrenched worldview. Your behavior was decidedly uncivilized, it's all you did was contribute to the normalization of the idea that all conflicts inevitably turn into physical altercations. Also, you escalated the entire thing by threatening to steal one of his possessions. Please don't do this again. Some kid calling you a bad word isn't a big deal; on the other hand, you could be in a bit of trouble if you wind up hurting a minor. Leave it alone and walk away next time.
posted by pineappleheart at 6:15 AM on November 6, 2011


Consider giving the panhandler the fucking dollar, rather than get in a scrape.

Most of the advice in this thread is decent, but this is not. The day you start handing out money to people out of fear of being assaulted if you don't is the day you move or buy a gun. In this case, of course, you provoked the assault, so next time: just keep walking.
posted by Dasein at 6:16 AM on November 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


so I told him I was going to take his hat as payment

Payment for what?

Becoming the bully to demonstrate to a bully what its like to be bullied may work on some levels, but probably not with your basic unruly street urchin.

Stop trying to teach lessons and lead by example. If the kid is going to learn, he need to be receptive to it in the first place. Teachable moments are best defined by the student if they are willing to learn as opposed to the teacher who is wants to teach.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Charles Bronson had his moments, but he also made a lot of really bad movies. And he wore a not so fashionable trench coat in some of them. Probably not your look. Just sayin'.
posted by lampshade at 6:17 AM on November 6, 2011


Yeah, piling on.... don't respond to any male below 40 years of age at all. Below that, we're mostly idiots. Man, what I used to think (sort of) when I was a teen... jeez. Glad I am still alive.
posted by FauxScot at 6:17 AM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


The person who instills in unruly teenagers the lesson "Don't call strangers obscene names" is going to be someone they know and respect. You are a stranger who kicks their friends in the balls. He's not going to think back and go "I guess I should refrain from calling people obscene names", he's going to think back and go "Strangers kick me in the balls, and this makes me even MADDER than I was before."

There is absolutely NOTHING you can do as a stranger to change the behavior of unruly youth. All you can do is make sure their unruly behavior doesn't escalate. You do this by ignoring them when they call you obscene names.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:24 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


to teach them a lesson in civilized behavior

You walk away. Preferably when out of view, you call the police, tell them a group of kids at the stop are hassling passers-by, give a description, and leave it to their discretion.

Perhaps nothing will come of it. Perhaps a police car will pull by and an officer will tell them they've been getting complaints and the loutish behaviour has to stop immediately.

That's a way that there is a chance of a lesson being taught, and even a chance of a lesson being learned. In my experience, police do respond to calls of unruly people hassling passer-bys - especially pan-handlers (which these were) - but it also depends on your neighbourhood, and how busy the police happen to be at that time.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:24 AM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or better yet, how do I interact with the unruly youth in my neighborhood without going all Charles Bronson?

Do not interact with unruly youth. There is nothing to be gained by mixing it up with testosterone-addled teenagers making spectacles of themselves in public.

Next time something like this happens, just let them bark and babble and carry on. Walk away. Ignore them. You have nothing at stake. They're just a bunch of mouthy kids. They have no power over you at all. None.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:26 AM on November 6, 2011


Last night, when I was walking home from the coffee shop, three teenagers at a bus stop asked me for a dollar and I turned them down. As I started to walk away, one of them started calling me obscene names, so I turned around and confronted him.

That's where you stepped in the wrong. Other commenters are right that you have some larger issues going on, but this is the answer to your specific question.
posted by red clover at 6:29 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What could I have done differently?

I think you should really dig deep and ask yourself why you are the type of person who, when provoked, will not only turn around and place yourself in danger, but will actually escalate the dangerous situation. It's not just because you were in a bad mood; that's a cop out. If this was your instinctual response, I'll bet similar incidents have happened in the past -- maybe not with young knuckleheads, but you've probably had other incidents where people were able to push your buttons and you've responded inappropriately. Ask yourself why; what causes these feelings, and then you'll be able to address them.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


What could happen if you see them? You committed a crime. If they reported it to the police, and you see the kids again, you could be arrested.
posted by jayder at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2011


If you're ever considering doing something to "teach a lesson," stop and think about the lesson they're likely to learn from it, not the lesson you intend to teach them. If they learned anything last night, it's probably along the lines of "grownups are violent assholes" or "go for the groin."

No one loses a physical fight and says "you were right; I now see things your way."

You're right that it feels deeply unfair to be harassed for no reason, and to be unable to do anything about it. But you can only control yourself, so your priority is to get yourself to safety. If someone's posing any sort of threat, call the cops.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:51 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


People do all sorts of things when they feel threatened, or even insulted. The bottom line is, the kid probably needed to have his ass, er, nuts kicked, and he was probably lucky that you were not someone who was going to kill him. Were you the proper person to do this? Probably not, but I think the end result is, the kid may think twice about doing that again, which isn't a bad outcome.
posted by brownrd at 6:53 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


but that's just what my gut was telling me.

Hopefully the comments in this thread have reinforced the idea that, at least in these matters, your gut is not to be trusted. If you see these kids again, ignore them. Ignore all kids hassling you in the street.
posted by crankylex at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2011


The single best book I've read on this general subject ("What could I have done differently?" or more generally, how to handle potentially violent situations) is Rory Miller's Facing Violence. Miller is a self-defense expert who has worked for many years in corrections, security, and tactical training. His personal label for the sort of baiting/taunting behavior you encountered, and got suckered into, is "The Monkey Dance," and like others above, his point is that if you engage in the Monkey Dance, you've already lost. There are other ways to deal with these situation, and again, I'd encourage you to check out the book. (He's especially good in describing the potential legal implications of getting into the monkey-dance scenario.)
posted by Kat Allison at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2011 [19 favorites]


I think part of this stems from a book I had read about duties as a citizen that said it is ones responsibility to say something when somebody is causing trouble for others

But they weren't, as far as you knew, causing trouble for others. They were calling you names, you should have just kept walking. If you came across them and they were harassing someone else you should have told them to knock it off, checked on the person being harassed and then continued on your journey.
posted by missmagenta at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I just don't agree with the philosophy that a person does nothing when they're being harassed

Think of it this way: people who verbally harass you are doing it to get a reaction. If you don't provide that reaction, you are discouraging this behavior.
posted by corey flood at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I just don't agree with the philosophy that a person does nothing when they're being harassed. Maybe I should though.


But you weren't being harassed. You were asked for money, you said "no" and they called you a few names as you walked away. Harassment would have been if they'd continued to follow you down the street calling you names or otherwise annoying you. This particular situation could have ended as soon as you walked away, but you chose to prolong it and make it worse. Own up to it, but don't dwell on it. We all make mistakes.

If I were in your shoes and I saw these kids again, I would make direct eye contact with them and apologize. Tell them you were having a bad day or whatever and then offer to buy them a cup of coffee. Even if they don't take you up on it, your apology will allow them to save face and keep them from stewing over the incident. As the adult, you should always try to set the tone.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:58 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I just don't agree with the philosophy that a person does nothing when they're being harassed.

I just felt kind of upset that my neighbors might be harassed like this over a dollar.

Part of this depends on your on personal definition of harassment, and everyone's is different. I wouldn't consider a teenage boy calling me names all that challenging in the grand scheme of things unless they were following me or otherwise getting physical.

Not that it's cool behaviour, but I've noticed that people have very different thresholds when it comes to separating out behaviour that's merely annoying and that which is upsetting. It sounds like you're more sensitive than some, and your concern for your neighbours is based on an assumption that they will also be bothered.

missmagenta has it right - if you see someone being harassed, interfere and make sure they are okay. If it's you and there's really no potential for harm, let it go and walk away.
posted by scrute at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2011


Do I ignore them?

Yes. Put the incident in the "let-sleeping-dogs-lie" folder and just note it for future reference.

If in the future you see them and they provoke you, ignore them.
If they threaten you, take note of who they are and report it.
If your life is threatened, run.

But if you like hospitals, engage them again and you may end up there.
posted by lampshade at 7:01 AM on November 6, 2011


If I were in your shoes and I saw these kids again, I would make direct eye contact with them and apologize. Tell them you were having a bad day or whatever and then offer to buy them a cup of coffee.

Just popping my head in to say: oh my God no not this.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2011 [29 favorites]


I train in martial arts. We're taught that you have a right to defend yourself (or others) but once you go beyond neutralizing any attack, you cross the line between defense and offense. Now you're the aggressor, and more importantly, now you're possibly* the criminal.

In the situation you described, they were verbally harassing you and instead of just leaving you turned around and escalated the situation to where physical violence occurred. This was totally avoidable. I'm glad you didn't actually take his hat (again putting you in the role of aggressor/criminal) but had you kept walking, it would never have been mentioned let alone been an option. Next time, keep walking.



*The police generally have some discretion in charging you so if there's some reason for them to believe you're defending yourself from an attack, they might cut you some slack. But it's not the sort of thing you should count on.
posted by tommasz at 7:03 AM on November 6, 2011


Last night, when I was walking home from the coffee shop, three teenagers at a bus stop asked me for a dollar and I turned them down. As I started to walk away, one of them started calling me obscene names, so I turned around and confronted him. When I told him he should be careful what he says, he blew me off

That's where you should have stopped. I understand wanting to confront someone who is calling you obscene names. You did, he rebuffed you, and that's where it should have ended. He got your point.

Obviously you took it (WAY) too far, but I think I understand where you were coming from.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ask yourself why; what causes these feelings, and then you'll be able to address them.

Every Hollywood movie and TV show trains us our entire lives that it's strong and right and macho and admired to confront those who demean us. And we all LOVE violence, it really excites us, so TV shows need plot devices to allow a protagonist to engage in lots of violence yet allow us to rationalise it as somehow ok, so we can feel free to admire their awesomeness without being bothered by it. Getting hassled for no reason is constantly used as a reason for a protagonist to be awesomely violent in such a way that we can overlook his role in it. Frankly, the miracle is that not everyone is so brainwashed as to confront more often. Still, it sucks when people whose opinion of you that you care about, still subscribe to Hollywood fantasy and assume cowardice and think less of you for doing what is right. That really burns. And awareness of that risk - a kind of second-hand-smoking of macho posturing - creates a lot of violence that wouldn't otherwise happen :(


I might see these kids again as it is a bus stop in my neighborhood. Do I say something to them or apologize some how? Do I ignore them? What do you guys think?

I don't know if it would go down at all well in Real Life, but I think it would be an awesome display of civility, if you all happen to be waiting at the stop in uncomfortable silence, acutely aware of each other, to apologise. Sorta "Hey, we got off on the wrong foot the other day. I think our neighbourhood should be friendlier, and I was kind of an asshole. I won't be an asshole again". (What I would say is complicated by the crime that was committed. Eg, an introduction is a good way of easing tension, but I wouldn't want them to have my name.
Don't find them. Don't try to apologise, just be ready on the off chance that you end up in an awkward situation where an apology might help.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hate to say this, dude, but I think you should lay low for a little while. You humiliated the kid you kicked in the balls, and he may now want to redeem his reputation with his friends. And he's not going to be able to beat you up, so the only way he may be able to redeem his reputation might involve a gun. You ought to be arrested for assault, but honestly that's not what I would be worried about if I were you.
posted by craichead at 7:05 AM on November 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


YMMV on addressing them if you see them again, but that's the kind of person I am. Do what's comfortable for you, of course... maybe skip the coffee part, but I wouldn't want to worry about some stupid kids lurking around my neighborhood waiting to "get revenge". I'd want to take the wind out of their sails by offering an apology right away.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2011


Or better yet, how do I interact with the unruly youth in my neighborhood without going all Charles Bronson?

You went more Bernard Goetz on them than Charles Bronson. (The kids Goetz shot claimed they only asked him for money.)
posted by jayder at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, you reacted badly - possibly not because you were in control of the situation and could teach them a lesson because of their scrawniness and ages; but because when three gang up on one, it could have been a prelude to a robbery even if they seemed inexperienced. You had a blocker, a snatcher and a runner there. The blocker attempts to make you stand still and get your wallet out, then the snatcher passes it to the guy who'll run off with it. Your brain was saying one thing, your instincts another. They were probably expecting your response and you could have walked off beyond their hail of curses, because they're probably not successful most of the time, but they weren't necessarily stupid kids. But, you called them on it in an aggressive way and invited that response. I think you get that.

It is entirely possible that the correct response in these situations, is, "Oh, baloney..." and not escalating.

But, if your goal still is to interact with the unruly youth in your neighborhood without going all Charles Bronson, the clue is interacting - you don't get to have your scenario without their reaction, which isn't a scripted response. Further, you're an adult dealing with teenage bullies. It's a complex issue. Rosalind Wiseman has been doing some great work with bullying, and "Creating Cultures of Dignity" and in her blog posts, articles and interviews she does talk about how empowering bystanders can make a great difference - if done properly.

You're an adult now, and you reacted like a kid being bullied. Were you once? Or, were you a bully? Perhaps owning up for your behaviour is one of the ways to deal with them when you see them again - but really, it's probably smartest to neutralize the whole situation as best possible, which, once again, will depend on how they begin the next interaction - not on how you do so.
posted by peagood at 7:10 AM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Teenagers have brains exploding with hormones and feelings and thoughts they have no idea what to do with, and are also, for the first time, experimenting with booze and drugs and don't yet know their limits or what the effects of these new feelings and substances are on their bodies.

Unless you have to physically pry some dumb kid off an old lady, don't interact with them. Don't give them grief, and wave them off if they try to give you grief. If you see them again, don't apologize and keep walking. Not for fear that they'll try to beat you up (again) but because you really don't need to be interacting with teenagers on the street.
posted by griphus at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2011


And if you really want to help the community, go volunteer in a youth center or some other place where your intervention in their lives will be welcome.
posted by griphus at 7:12 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I guess I just don't agree with the philosophy that a person does nothing when they're being harassed. Maybe I should though.

Read some Sun Tzu. List the things you potentially stand to gain by "doing something", and list the things you potentially stand to lose.

There is no reality (LSD-induced tripping included) where the Gain list will even come close to matching the Lose list. Even when you include delusional ideas like "Kids might learn some respect!"

So by "doing something", you are choosing to harm yourself.

Don't do that. That's just being stupid. Act smart.
Good things come to people who don't sabotage themselves.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had read about duties as a citizen that said it is ones responsibility to say something when somebody is causing trouble for others, which I pretty much agreed with.

Trouble for someone else, perhaps. You just got mad because they yelled at you, as it seems.

I just felt kind of upset that my neighbors might be harassed like this over a dollar.

Yeah, but no: that didn't happen. They called you names, not your neighbor.

For the record though, I don't think I was really going take his hat, just sort of mimicking at it,

Translates into the same. Also, trading insults and hats - works only when both parts agree on the deal.

And when he started to fight me, I got scared so I kicked him.
That figures, and I would have been scared too. A good thing to think of next time around, scrawny kids don't stay scrawny, while their memory remains the same. You won't like, by coincidence, meeting these dudes again in three years and, surprise, one of them has been training up his biceps.
posted by Namlit at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do I say something to them or apologize some how?

Further contact, no matter how apologetic, will not be welcome and may make things worse.

It's up to you to just keep your eyes peeled for a while and avoid them like crazy. If you see them at the bus stop, then wait for the next bus.
posted by hermitosis at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know that "It takes a village to raise a child" statement? Forget that ever existed. It doesn't work anymore. Why?

1) Nobody in the village is going to back you up for attempting to take a kid's hat as some sort of protection payment. Some would call the police.

2) Nobody in the village is going to back you up for kicking a minor in the junk. Most would call the police.

3) Very few people in the village think that kids shouting obscenities is a big deal. You think it's disrespectful (I do too!) but people aren't willing to die on that hill anymore.

Do not interact beyond "No" or "Oh, baloney." Do not engage.

I wouldn't apologize at all -- treat it it like a car accident when your insurance company tells you never to apologize or accept blame. Everyone is at fault and you don't want to be the only one publicly saying they are guilty.
posted by ladygypsy at 7:21 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


What were the obscene names that he called you? Did they hit a specific nerve for you? Can picture him shouting other otherwise insulting things that wouldn't have made you turn around to confront them?

If so, that may help you train yourself on you could have done things differently, should you find yourself in a similar situation again. Know where your triggers are, and understand that the particular obscene names he used have absolutely nothing to do with you. He could've easily picked XYZ or ABC as an insult that, for whatever reason, you happen to find less insulting, and it would've been (and therefore should be) easier to walk away.
posted by argonauta at 7:22 AM on November 6, 2011


I guess I just don't agree with the philosophy that a person does nothing when they're being harassed. Maybe I should though.

What do you have to gain by escalating a situation? If someone is harassing you, they're likely not the kind of person who is going to respond well to any attempt by you to either reason with them or defuse the situation. You're not going to "win."

One of the best things I've done for myself in the past few years is to quit voluntarily participating in drama. It's so much better for the psyche to walk away than get involved in unnecessary conflict.
posted by something something at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another option when taunted - respond with something friendly and disarming, said with a smile, as if it just doesn't occur to you that they're being threatening, because we're all too friendly. We're all just joshing around.

There isn't much comeback for that, and it's naturally de-escalating.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should consider asking to make this question anonymous seeing as you how you have confessed to some significant crimes.

And yes, the answer is "walk away, and bitch to your friends later about kids these days."
posted by stevis23 at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2011


Unfortunately you taught them a lesson that is in direct oppositin to what you wanted. Now they will be angrier with a feeling of less control on the world and may act out even more.

Your violence scares me, personally, way more than the kids obscenities.

I diffuse such scenarios with humor. It takes the wind out of their sails without raising Anyone's anger level. It also gives you the opportunity to become someone they listen to. When I get kids to laugh, I find I get the opportunity to have a conversation (if it happens to fall that way, don't push it) with them where they admit, on their own, that their behavior was jerkish, or at the least, futile. Lowering the level of violence is always better than raising it.

Finally to answer your que
posted by Vaike at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't try to apologize--that's sucking up. If nothing else, the kids now think you're the crazy guy. I din't think that ignoring obscenities is always the right thing to do, but you gain more status and thus, power, on the block by not getting physical. Or not getting physical first.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:04 AM on November 6, 2011


...Finally to answer your question. For you, specifically, I think the. Best option is to just walk away.
posted by Vaike at 8:04 AM on November 6, 2011


I think you should e-mail the moderators and ask that this question be made anonymous. I'm a criminal defense attorney, and I would have a face palm moment if I saw one of my clients make an internet post like this. You probably broke the law, although I don't know the consequences of that in your state, or whether you can assert any defense (which varies by state).

So I would draw two lessons from your experience: 1) In most states, there is no "fighting words" defense. If it's only verbal, you need to walk away. 2) Don't post about potentially criminal stuff you've done on the internet.
posted by Happydaz at 8:19 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're getting a lot of bad answers here because a lot of people are appalled at you and so are automatically casting these kids as saints. Make no mistake, these kids are assholes and probably need to get their ass kicked. But not by you, or any adult.

You put yourself in danger needlessly. Next time they might not be so scrawny. Next time they might not give up. Next time there might not be a bus. You don't need to look deep inside yourself, worry about being a role model (wow) or any other nonsense. You need to learn to swallow your pride.

You were rightfully offended that this kid felt entitled to harass you, an adult, for money, and then felt entitled to insult you when you didn't. You were insulted that these punks felt entitled to intimidate you. Totally understandable. But next time you're going to get stabbed. You need to walk away for self preservation. Since your actions were ultimately motivated by fear, that's something you should understand.

Also, you may want to find a new route.
posted by spaltavian at 8:30 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Although it seems overly dramatic, just to be on the safe side, I'd agree with Craichead and suggest you exercise caution over the next few days, particularly if you walk that route often. This isn't to say that these kids will come after you, only that teenagers often don't let things go like adults do. Back in the days when I worked with kids this age (granted, in an inner-city setting where the threat of violence was a daily reality), I came to the conclusion that I would much rather tangle with an adult male than a sixteen year old boy, because many teenagers have not yet developed the ability to calmly reason down their own rage, or to grapple seriously with the potential consequences of their actions. They're more likely than most adults to toss their futures away for the pleasures or the vindications of the moment.

If you want to be a good citizen, join the Boys and Girls Club and try to make a difference in a setting where it's actually possible. Confrontations on the street just set you up as the enemy - someone to be opposed, not listened to.
posted by artemisia at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2011


Looks, the kids call you names when you don't give them money because they feel humiliated that they have shown themselves to be powerless. It feels differently to you, but it's about them saving face. Kids are mostly pretty powerless against anyone except other kids - this is why they're dangerous as a mob, they have no experience of power and balance and mercy. And if you are middle class and the kids are poor, or you're white and the kids are POC, there's another factor in play. If you're a white middle class person moving into a recently working class or POC neighborhood, that's a third thing.

Not that it's ever okay to hassle people for money and call them obscene names, but it may be easier for you to manage these interactions if you try to get into the kids' headspace.

Don't respond - you have no bonds of trust with these kids and you may actually have negative trust if you're perceived as a white gentrifier, for example. How do I know? My life.

And do find another route - the kids probably won't do anything because they're kids, but why risk getting into it?

I doubt very much that the cops are going to do anything - unless the kids are white middle class kids (and maybe not even then) they aren't going to risk getting into it with the cops, and the cops aren't going to believe them. It's a fact of racism, for example, that a white adult will be believed over kids of color.

Especially if there is a substantial class or race difference between you and the kids, you might want to examine your unconscious assumptions about youth, youth of color, working class youth - my experience is that some adults (including me) get so scared of kids (from being bullied, or from a racist upbringing) that we go absolutely ballistic on them.
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Rather than messaging mathowie, you might be better off with the Contact page, which, as I understand it, contacts all the mods at once.
posted by box at 8:48 AM on November 6, 2011


[anonymized per OP request.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:54 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


they're not kids
you're not a robber
ignore the bullshit
posted by past at 9:02 AM on November 6, 2011


Kicking a guy in the crotch is an incredibly violent act and only justifiable in warding off rape or other severe physical assault. You need to recalibrate your violence meter.
posted by yesster at 9:03 AM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I agree that if you encounter them in an otherwise civil situation and you think you can do it sincerely and not passive-aggressively it would be classy and good-role-modelly to apologize but
"Hey, we got off on the wrong foot the other day."
not with those particular words.
posted by XMLicious at 9:08 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, yeah, you handled that badly. Next time don't get so upset when people say shit to you. It's not about you, it's about them. Just walk on by. That is a much better lesson in civilized behavior than, say, violence and theft.
posted by number9dream at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2011


You can insult them back if you want to stoop to their level (rather than race past it to the bottom), or indicate that you find their insults ridiculous (condescendingly or otherwise), or tell them, "well now I'm definitely not giving you a dollar," or inform the police on the sly that there are teenage panhandlers randomly harassing people, or not say anything and feel sorry for them, or let it bounce off you because those dumb kids don't know you from Adam and have nothing to do with your life, they're just yelling at moving shapes. If they hit a nerve it really had nothing to do with you, they're just guessing. It's about as meaningful as being yelled at by an annoying cursing parrot.

Never hit anyone who isn't hitting you.

You're lucky they played fair and didn't stab you. Any stranger you attack could do that or worse, no matter how scrawny they are. You don't know them any more than they know you, and you have no way of knowing how they'll react, if they could be even touchier about insults than you are, if maybe they were hoping you'd start something. I think the people who love you would be so pissed at you and worried about you if they knew you physically attacked a stranger because he said something intended to provoke you.
posted by Adventurer at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2011


The fact that you lashed out with theft and physical violence because they said something you didn't like and then you laughed because they were scrawny makes me think you're a bully. As someone who regularly suffered at the hands of bullies, here are some survival tips I learned: WAIL. Walk Away. Ignore. And if you can't do the first two, Laugh it off. Maybe you live in a rough neighborhood. Maybe the culture of your neighborhood makes words a more serious weapon. But I still don't see how it can do you any good to do anything other than Walk Away, Ignore, or Laugh. If it's really serious enough to require something additional, then get the cops involved.
posted by katillathehun at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2011


You might also investigate some sort of practice that will help you cultivate a kind of calm strength, whether it's loving-kindness meditation or just therapy. You can't control whether people insult you, but you can control your reactions. If I recall correctly, Charles Bronson went on his rampage because some kids murdered his wife, not because he (in his original non-widower state) couldn't handle insults.
posted by Adventurer at 9:45 AM on November 6, 2011


Chiming in that your first mistake was turning around and confronting them. People who react with obscene words and name-calling when you deny them a request are doing so to save face in front of their "gang", whether its a bunch of teenagers panhandling or the swaggering self-proclaimed office stud who's been bragging to his buds that he can have any woman in the office he wants. You turn him down for a date, he'll call you a lesbian in front of his friends, thus making you look like the "loser" and not him. You don't give the kid a dollar, he unleashes a barrage of insulting cuss words so his friends laugh and believe that he got the last word in. When you confront someone like that, they are NOT going to back down - they are going to get further into your face. Even if the situation results in fisticuffs and you somehow emerge victorious, what have you gained? You'll probably have suffered some cuts and bruises or worse, and you may injure another party enough to invite a lawsuit or an arrest. That old lesson we were taught as children about "sticks and stones" is still a valid one. It's not pleasant to be verbally taunted, but it's very pleasant to arrive home in one unharmed piece.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:49 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


…so I told him I was going to take his hat as payment

first of all, wtf?

When he started to fight me, I kicked him in the crotch…

second of all, wtf?

so you decided to out-asshole assholes? all of this could have been prevented if you had just continued to walk away rather than feel that it was your right or place to "teach them a lesson." because it's not. some stranger on the street is very unlikely to teach a kid any kind of "lesson". if you really want to hav an impact on the "unruly youth" in your neighborhood, volunteer with some youth organizations rather than believe that any spur-of-the-moment interaction is going to result in some kind of revelation for these kids.
posted by violetk at 9:57 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Obviously, you shouldn't have escalated the situation. First, you shouldn't have told him to watch what he said to you, because that puts you in a position where you will likely have to back up your words. Second, you especially shouldn't have tried to grab the kid's hat to teach him some kind of lesson.

How do you interact with your neighborhood youth? Don't pull this shit again.

I think the real question here is why you thought it was a good idea to do things that were so obviously a bad idea. I don't think anyone has said this yet, but you really ought to consider looking into anger management classes. Get at the root of the problem.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:57 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dude, the hat thing was fucked up. I disagree with some of the folks here — I'da still called the little tools out on their shit, but if they'd kept it going, I'd (at least pretend) to call the cops, rather than get involved with them. That and use my camera phone to take a picture and tell them I'm posting it to the web with some sort of "Look at these panhandling douchebags" caption (depending on how likely the kids looked to be embarrassed by that sort of thing).
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually empathize with this:

Basically, my original intention was just to teach them a lesson in civilized behavior at my neighborhood bus stop, but I feel like I ended up being the more uncivil one myself in how I acted.

I think you did the wrong thing, but I know how it could happen.

The main problem is not that you are a bad person. It is that you did not have control over yourself.

If someone read your AskMe question two minutes ahead of time and said, OK, now you're going into this situation, you most certainly would not have engaged or at least not escalated. You'd realize that, no, you can't instantly deprogram these little assholes by getting hostile with them. But without the control, you were unable to make the right decision.

I'm guessing that you felt a flash of intense emotions when they started fucking with you.

Something similar happened to me recently. Some teens recently tried to start shit with me. I walked away from it, but not before starting to verbally engage with them. I. Just. Could. Not. Believe. These. Teen. Shits. Would. Fuck. With. Me. Fortunately, my wife snapped me out of my indignity. I stopped talking, and we moved on.

Unfortunately, we can't always have an external reminder that we're not being rational and are not *thinking* about our decisions. So, I'm adopting this rule: If you don't feel calm, don't respond to anything except physical attacks. Give yourself five minutes away from the situation, then decide what to do.

I used this rule in poker to make better decisions in tough spots (albeit, it was 30 seconds rather than five minutes), and it worked out well.

So, when I feel that sudden spike of surprise anger, I'm going to go right to that as my prime directive.
posted by ignignokt at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


You just reinforced to those three kids that violence is an appropriate response to (perceived) disrespect. You really think that's a lesson they needed to learn?

Next time, keep walking. If they continue to escalate, make it very clear to them that you are choosing to walk away, because escalating words to actions is not worth your time nor effort. Not that they are not worth your time, but that making a fight out of the situation isn't worth it. And then keep walking.
posted by Etrigan at 11:25 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shit, dude.

I'm another high school teacher, and while I understand that teenage behaviour can be annoying and aggravating, what you did was not cool.

As their teacher, I have the right to confiscate hats in my classroom, and I STILL don't do it as long as they remove it in class (per the school rules). But on the street with a kid I don't know - that's insane.

And I mean, c'mon...stealing and kicking a teenager to "teach them civility"? Wow. Just wow.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:30 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I told him he should be careful what he says, he blew me off, so I told him I was going to take his hat as payment (which was a fancy ball cap.) When he started to fight me, I kicked him in the crotch, and all three of them started to go crazy punching me until the bus came, which was rather soon.

So, in general in these sorts of situations (particularly with punk kids who are kind of obnoxious), you want to answer like with like, without escalating. So if they are using words, you only use words as well.

Here is how I answer words with words without escalating. You sort of have to treat teenagers like they are amoebas. When they asked for the dollar, I would have either said nothing and just kept walking, or said, "Sorry, guys, not today," and kept moving. I'm guessing you were maybe a bit, ahem, impolite in your response?

Then, when they started with the names, you can do a couple things. I switch between the two, depending on situation. One is the "huh what?" That's when you turn around and say, "I'm sorry, what? I didn't hear you, could you speak up? I'm a...what was that word?" People are often willing to say things to your back that they won't say to your face. The other is the "lightning bolt." You turn around and say, "Oh my God. Oh my God, you're right. I AM a [redacted.] Oh, wow. Oh, this explains so much. I'm going to go home and make curtains for my living room. I'm going to join the Gay Men's Chorus. I knew there was a reason I liked showtunes so much! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Act like they were trying to be helpful and you're REALLY EXTREMELY GRATEFUL. It kind of highlights how dumb the insult is, but you're GUSHING so much that people can't really call you on it.

And as other people have said above, it kind of sounds like you maybe have some anger/temper stuff going on here. You maybe want to work on that before you try either of the above techniques, they require a sort of zen approach to schooling ignint younguns.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2011


From the OP:
Thanks for the responses. I think some people here are maybe blowing what I did way out of proportion. Please remember that there were three of them and one of me being harassed at night with no one around. I know I'm no saint here, but I'm no demon either. I'm usually a very non-violent, even pacifist, person. And I wasn't really going to steal the hat either, just suggesting it to give him shit.

Here's a little more background, peagood. Yes, I was bullied in middle school when I was younger, so much so that I left school. It stressed me out a lot, and has made it difficult for me to stay calm when being bullied. I used to fantasize about all the crap I'd do to the kids who tortured me, which was pretty screwed up I admit but I was just an alienated kid. I've gone to counseling for it a bit, but I fear I might still have some issues with it that I need to work on. I'm not sure how much it has to do with this particular situation

One part is what was going on with me that night as well. The barista girl and I at the coffee shop I went to before had had this kind of thing going on (got her phone number,) but last night she just gave me the cold shoulder and I was feeling rather vulnerable as these kids started to pick on me, stirring up old emotions of being bullied in middle school.

And the other part, and this is going to sound really screwed up, but it might help shed some light on my dilemma. I'm going to school to be a minister. Lately, because of my future role in my community, I've felt the need to be rather vocal when I see these kids running around with no sense of guidance or values in my neighborhood. I feel that respect for the people around you has been one of the hardest values to communicate to people I know who just didn't grow up with it, even roommates, and it worries me if I can't even communicate that. I'm not a minister yet, I'm only 25, so please don't give me shit for not being good at it. But I really would like to get better at this. And don't worry, I know my religion says things about loving my neighbors and non-violence. It's no delight that I've fallen short of my creed as well as my ethics.

I know this sounds a bit mopey but I really just want to help my community and I ended up letting my emotions get the best of me in this instance. Let's just say I'm ready to learn better ways of dealing with conflict resolution.

By the way, I saw the teen with the ballcap walking down the street today. I was in my car and almost stopped to go up to him because of some of you, but decided I had better not. I don't need assault of a minor on my background checks later in life. Sorry.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:23 PM on November 6, 2011


When I've gotten "fuck you, bitch" after I've refused to give someone money, my response has been :"I am NOT your bitch!" , and continue walking. So far the only reaction I've had are grumbles.
posted by brujita at 3:23 PM on November 6, 2011


No one here is saying you are a demon. But you asked for suggestions on how you could have handled this better, so it's a bit confounding to hear you say we're blowing it way out of proportion. You kicked a teenager in the balls after telling him you were stealing his property as compensation for some bad words he called you. Out of proportion? I don't think there's any interpretation of these events in which escalating it into violence was proportionate to what they did.

Perhaps some martial arts/self-defense classes would be in order. I've always felt that men who are confident in their ability to defend themselves are the slowest to be provoked into a fight. A truly self-possessed man in your situation would have brushed it off (I like the suggestion above: "not tonight, guys") and kept walking. You have a lot of work to do, both in assessing the seriousness of what you did and in being more self-confident so that the bullying issues from your childhood don't bubble to the surface in ordinary street confrontations.
posted by jayder at 3:30 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


"And the other part, and this is going to sound really screwed up, but it might help shed some light on my dilemma. I'm going to school to be a minister. Lately, because of my future role in my community, I've felt the need to be rather vocal when I see these kids running around with no sense of guidance or values in my neighborhood."

You should talk to your spiritual guide/confessor/pastor about this. You should also look into enrolling in whatever pastoral training is available for dealing with youth. This was seriously directly from the playbook of how NOT to engage with youth. You escalated, you caused them to lose face, you attempted to engage with them in a group (where rarely will a teen be willing to listen to an adult voice).

I'm on my local school board and, as such, I feel responsible to speak to our students when they're behaving badly in public and I happen to witness it. However, it is about context and about responding in productive ways. It IS important to engage with young people, set an example, create clear expectations of appropriate behaviors, etc., but it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT that you learn how to do so properly, in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. First, you should seriously question whether engaging with three belligerent youth at night, alone, is a good idea. I wasn't there, I don't know how belligerent they were right off the bat. (I tend to be less alarmist than others I know about teenaged behavior and teenagers in large groups, but it's not always a good idea to engage.)

If kids began shouting names at me and I felt the need to engage (which I'm not sure I would, but let's pretend I did), there are two tacks I might take. You can say, "That is inappropriate behavior." Calmly, clearly, and with absolutely no expectation that any attention will be paid to you. Making clear the community standards can be worthwhile on its own. It allows you to stand up for yourself and the community and express that there are limits. But you have to expect that the response to this will be jeering and more name-calling and so on. You don't react to that. You just remain calm and move on, having said your piece. The only thing I would possibly add is to repeat, "That is inappropriate behavior, and I am sure you know that," when they were going "durrr, inappropriate behaviors, durrr!"

The other tack I sometimes take, generally when I see a group misbehaving nearish one of our schools (we have a big problem with students standing in large groups in the middle of the street blocking traffic) is to approach them, introduce myself (with my name and my official role, so they know who I am and that I"m not some random creeper), offer my hand to shake, and begin to talk to them. I typically talk to them about school, how some recent policy change is going, if they're excited about prom, whatever, since I'm on school board. Even if they'd been shouting obscenities they usually crank it down as soon as an adult approaches them in a friendly, respectful fashion. Then I'll say, "I would really appreciate it if you guys would step out of the road -- it makes me so nervous you're going to get run over, and you would not BELIEVE how much paperwork there is when a student gets hit by a car ..." with a smile. Every time I've done it they've been a bit embarrassed and gotten right back on the sidewalk. I thank them and we talk a little bit more and I tell them they should always feel free to call me with any questions. There's a lot of feeling in my town that these kids in groups in the road are intimidating and dangerous, and people act intimidated and frightened, but rarely does anyone bother to actually address the kids in a reasonably respectful way and say, "Hey, could you get out of the road?"

"he should be careful what he says"

This is an implied threat. You were escalating with them, which gave them no choice but to escalate, which made you escalate again, and so on. Your biggest problem here is that you did NOT behave like an adult; you behaved like a teenager in the same face-saving macho-man game they were playing. You cannot win by playing by those terms.

You may find different strategies than I employ work for you; I'm a physically non-threatening woman, and I have a mom-vibe, so these strategies come across well for me. But you really need to learn some strategies for engaging before you reinvent the wheel here. I went to seminary myself, and the seminarians who burned out were the ones on fire with the desire to save humanity but without the patience or humility to learn from those who'd gone before. MANY people have done work on engaging with teens -- rural teens, inner-city teens, suburban teens, wealthy teens with ennui, teens with drug problems, teens from broken homes. If it is important to you to help these teens with no guidance or values, it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT that you learn what is already out there in terms of strategies and resources. Otherwise you should have the humility to admit that you don't know how to handle this and are as likely to do harm as good.

By the way -- you don't know that THESE kids had no guidance or values. You didn't bother to find out. They may be great kids who engage in periodic dumbassery, which one gets from Harvard-bound valedictorians hoping to go into the ministry as well as from juvie-bound delinquents with rap sheets a mile long. Dumbassery is part of teenagerhood.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:24 PM on November 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


Thank you for responding personally. I could guess that there was some bullying involved in your past, not just because it's epidemic, but because I see that scenario play out pretty much exactly like that every day at recess with 4-6th graders - we had fifteen fighting incidences at school just last week (Halloween candy!) and I figured maybe something like that had reared its ugly head. Often those bullied become bullies later in life.

Your admission to studying for the ministry is interesting, and adds a twist. I can't find what I'd read once before about people in positions of religious moral authority actually being more likely to "sin" , but this article has the gist, about "When subconsciously exposed to religious ideas and concepts, religious people are far more likely to actively punish those they believe are acting selfishly and unfairly, a new study has revealed." and there is this, which talks about how "something different happens in our brains when we begin thinking about an issue we recognize as having ethical overtones." And I know there are tons and tons of "sciencey" articles out there having to do with how people are, but even so, it's always probably wiser to show mercy than to smite.
posted by peagood at 4:52 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guidance, values...
Hmm.
It seems to me that the distance between "I just kicked a teenager in the balls" and "I am qualified to guide people and uphold the values of my community" is so vast that I'd suggest humbling down somewhat and perhaps wait with all the guiding stuff until, you know, you actually can live up to your own values somewhat?
This could take quite some time and you may not succeed, but why be a guide if you don't know your way? It's cool to want to help one's community, but there are other ways of doing that besides telling people how they should behave. Perhaps get a job at a nursing home or some-such. Vastly meaningful, and good for getting rid of excess ego and entitlement.
posted by Thug at 4:53 PM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I get that you're feeling defensive, and that you're heavily invested in not being or feeling "crazy," but you're minimizing this so much now that it's almost as alarming as the substance of your original post.

I've been thinking about this a lot today. A lot of people fantasize about doing what you did, so it's easy to sympathize with. But it is in fact an extremely unusual act, grabbing at some strange loud-mouthed teenager's hat and kicking him in the balls. Who actually does that? People who are very, very drunk (and usually in a group); people who are on some drug that promotes aggression and mania and feelings of invincibility; people in the movies, which is a safe space for unrealistic violent revenge fantasies. And people who have some impulse control problem that requires real therapy.

Please remember that there were three of them and one of me being harassed at night with no one around.

I'm not clear on what this is even supposed to tell us. You knew you wouldn't get caught? You were being chivalrous on behalf of phantom smaller weaker persons who might have felt more threatened by their insults, had they been there to receive them? They reminded you of people from 13 years ago, so you decided to show those people from 13 years ago who's boss by beating up a different teenager? It makes me wince, because what a perfect opportunity to use a weapon on you. I don't get any sense that you're aware that even the scrawniest teenager can hurt you if he's hiding a knife, not to mention a gun, especially if he has two other people there.

If you're flashing back so badly that you're assaulting people, you need help. This is not being alarmist.

And I wasn't really going to steal the hat either, just suggesting it to give him shit.

This doesn't help either! People keep calling the hat thing weird because it's something a child would do. Like a super-strong eight-year-old who thinks he's invincible. Or, again, someone with impaired judgment.

The barista girl and I at the coffee shop I went to before had had this kind of thing going on (got her phone number,) but last night she just gave me the cold shoulder and I was feeling rather vulnerable as these kids started to pick on me, stirring up old emotions of being bullied in middle school.

So a girl you like gave you the cold shoulder, and you're saying that primed the pump for you to physically assault a minor in a way that would have gotten you jail time if you'd been caught.

That's a problem right there. Like, maybe you should stop trying to date girls for a while until you can handle rejection, because even if you aren't giving off unstable girl-alarming vibes right now, if you get rejected as often as most people do you're going to end up in jail or the hospital. I'm being a little facetious here, but not very: whether it's triggered by rejection or not, you really do need to ask a professional to help you out before you find yourself wondering why you did something worse. Jail, bad injury, very bad guilt.

The fact that you think this barista thing sounds like a mitigating factor makes me think you're divorcing yourself from reality in order to feel more reasonable.

I mean, this girl blew you off, so the next person who insults you and won't let you have their stuff, you kick in the crotch? It's like your subconscious was in charge of your whole brain.

I'm sorry that this sounds harsh, but you've got a serious problem here, and it isn't going to get better unless you take it seriously.
posted by Adventurer at 6:18 PM on November 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


Let's just say I'm ready to learn better ways of dealing with conflict resolution.

This is actually something you can study at college. You might be a little put off by courses on conflict resolution or peace studies because they attract a lot of the kind of extreme leftists that make the left look bad, speaking in language so off-the-charts-PC it's hard to take seriously, but the underlying information and tools can be valuable and solid.

People above have pointed out that it sounds like the kids were hassling you to save face, and that you probably would not have felt so targeted if you were fully aware of why they had to do what they did. Studying conflict resolution can teach you to think in that way - to accurately assess what is really going on, and make good tactical choices for achieving the desired endgame.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:42 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you fight by kicking a scrawny teenager in the crotch, you're not all Charles Bronson there. I'm just saying, if you really feel the need to engage in violence to prove something, you should at least pick on someone your own size and fight fair instead of finding some kid to push around because you're mad for some other reason. They're not bullying you, they're just teenagers running their mouths and there's no reason to pay any attention to that.
posted by citron at 7:29 PM on November 6, 2011


When I told him he should be careful what he says, he blew me off, so I told him I was going to take his hat as payment (which was a fancy ball cap.) When he started to fight me, I kicked him in the crotch, and all three of them started to go crazy punching me until the bus came, which was rather soon. They were scrawny kids, so mostly all it did was make me laugh, but that's beside the point.

What, what, what? And the other kids punching you made you laugh, because they're too weak to do any damage. But then your follow-up is all about how vulnerable you felt? Memories of middle-school bullying and being sad that you might not get the girl is a screamingly weak premise for you to verbally and physically humiliate some scrawny, mouthy kids. I would suggest that you take some very serious steps to work through your sense of entitlement.
posted by desuetude at 11:07 PM on November 6, 2011


One last thing - I know this might sound kind of like overkill, but I think you should act anyway: given the future you are trying to build for yourself and others, I think you should lay the best groundwork now for yourself to succeed, so you don't build a house on sand. You should take this moment as a reason and an opportunity to start a change in yourself.

As you pointed out, you failed yourself. Stupid shit pushed your buttons in ways you didn't expect and you reacted in ways that, should your luck have been worse, could have had potentially serious repercussions for your future and your plans and your dreams. Dumb luck saved your ass, and saved your future.
I am speaking as someone who has to live under a Damocles sword - so I am very passionate about this: you do not ever want your future to need dumb luck to save it. EVER!

Your buttons can be pushed again. That means your future and your hopes are still vulnerable.

Don't brush this escalation aside as something to simply do differently in the future, because when those buttons get pushed, you won't be analyzing, you'll probably just act. Get to the bottom of everything if you possibly can. Set yourself up for success instead. If you take the path in life you hope to, then you're going to end up advising and talking to people about their anger management issues, and you can do that better if you know what the hell you're talking about. So give that path a go - sign up for a course! Maybe it will be directly useful for you, but even if not, the worst case is that you learn a lot of things that will make you more valuable and useful in your role helping others and being an asset to your community. (But chances are, it'll also make you a better and more thoughtful person. Double-win!)
Same goes with therapists. You're going to have the ear of people for whom therapy is a useful or even vital tool, and the more experience you have, the less you're talking out your ass, the better. So walk in those shoes yourself. You've just been given a reason/excuse (you're not happy with how you reacted). Worst case scenario: you learn a lot. Best case scenario: You learn a lot AND you find it's really helpful for yourself too, and maybe it assists you to build that stronger foundation for yourself, instead of the current situation where your buttons got pressed and you got into trouble before you knew it.

You've got lots of reasons to sign up for things, to grow and learn. So don't brush this incident off. Instead, let it be your moment.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:17 AM on November 7, 2011


...I've felt the need to be rather vocal when I see these kids running around with no sense of guidance or values in my neighborhood. I feel that respect for the people around you has been one of the hardest values to communicate to people I know who just didn't grow up with it, even roommates, and it worries me if I can't even communicate that.

These are the two sentences that point in the direction of true improvement. A sense of guidance follows the act of guidance; a sense of values follows values first instilled. Someone has to be there to guide and to live according to values. The only means of communication in this context that makes any sense, and a difference in a long-term perspective, is trying to be a good example. Don't misunderstand "communicate" in the sense of "preaching". To tell people that they lack values is like telling people "you're wet" after a rainstorm.
posted by Namlit at 2:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think some people here are maybe blowing what I did way out of proportion.

no. you threatened to take someone's property and then you kicked him in the crotch when he responded to your threat. there is no "blowing…out of proportion" what you did here. this is just one of the things you have rationalized about your behaviour. by saying this, you've minimized your (very wrong) actions, and then by stating that you did it because some girl blew you off, you are essentially excusing yourself. you can't have your cake and eat it. there's no "i was wrong BUT…" in this situation. you were just wrong, period. i think you know that on some level but i also think you don't want to characterize yourself as someone who would actually do what you did so you have come up with all sorts of reasons/excuses why you had to react the way you did. the fact that you can't also see that your own personal history of having been bullied is probably a big contributor to your actions is further evidence of how much denial you are in about yourself. until you come clean with yourself and admit that the only person responsible for your actions was you (not those kids, not the barista) then your effectiveness at your stated goal of becoming a minister who can effectively help young people is going to be pretty superficial, if not hypocritical.
posted by violetk at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's scary to admit how wrong something you did was. All sorts of protective mechanisms start to skew your logic, which sounds like what is happening here with your updates.

I think to really change things, don't use the example of these teenagers, but use the example of what YOU did to really get an understanding of what is wrong and right behavior. This means really looking at the reasons you acted out. This was a terrible thing, but try to be o.k. with owning up to it, then explore the reasons why you did this. You can use this opportunity to really gain an understanding from the inside of why people react/disrespect/harass, etc.

If you are really honest with yourself, you can absolutely turn what you did around and gain a huge insight into the rest of the world that will be invaluable to your future interactions with people to make the changes in your neighborhood that you are striving for.

This might be what you needed for real growth so you can help other. I hope you use it wisely.
posted by Vaike at 12:42 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to add to the majority vote here. I think you might find this page on pride, fighting, and self-defense quite concretely helpful.

I'm not totally unsympathetic. I know what it's like to get bullied, I know this very very well.

I know what it's like to get turned down, too. Sometimes in the same breath as you get jeered at. Not wanting to go into detail, but let's just say I've seen Carrie and my inner monkey admires her restraint. And yeah, I do know what the holy saintly Christian response is, and I still feel like Carrie in the moment.

I know what it feels like to engage in nonviolent de-escalation fu and I know how unsatisfying those actions feel in the heat of battle. Your intellect and spirit might know it's exactly right, but your inner monkey will still be jeering at you, because humans are really just animals.

So what!

Your inner monkey let you run riot with verbal abuse, theft, some kind of serious assault (kicking a kid in the balls?!?), and physical fighting with three children. If that kind of berserk response actually worked, you'd be satisfied and you wouldn't be posting this because you'd be convinced you'd won. It didn't work. You went over the top with violent assault and you still feel like a loser.

When I feel like a loser for ignoring my tormentors (right in the balls, that's how I'd like to ignore 'em) and forgiving my enemies (right in the teeth, that's how I'd like to forgive 'em) I surf over to the No-Nonsense Self Defense site I linked to above, and then I feel much more badass. I strongly suggest you start paying *a lot* of attention to what's written there.
posted by tel3path at 2:31 PM on November 7, 2011


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