Did I play this right? Potentially violent physical encounter.
September 3, 2011 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Potentially violent physical encounter at the market earlier on. Did I do the right thing?

My girlfriend and I are just back from our weekly shop at our local indoor market, and when we were there, I almost got into a potentially nasty encounter.

We were sitting having a quick drink of juice when I noticed a group of about four pretty rough looking folk walk past us (most of them in their late 30s). We had seen them at the outdoor market where they had been drinking (this was at about 2pm), and they'd obviously been moved on by the local police.

As they came into the indoor market, they walked past one of the stalls and the woman in the group reached into the stall and grabbed (re: stole) one of the items. It wasn't much, just a little carved wooden horse or dog or something.

I waited until they had walked past me and my girlfriend before going up to speak with the owner, but I had obviously missed the 'trailer' of the group who was right at the back. As I stood up and walked to the stall, he stopped me and asked me where I was going and what I was doing. I never said anything and held my hands up to keep him back a little bit. I tried to talk him down, and he basically told me to 'not be a hero and go sit the fuck down' (I might be adding 'fuck' for dramatic effect...). He also reached into his pocket for his beer, but it could have been anything (a knife etc), and I just stood there (more self-defense training needed?)

I sat down, and he walked away. The first chance I got, I managed to grab a market police man and tell him what had happened and showed him where, along with a description of the group and the guy.

Now, over the last 10 months or so, I've been taking a self-defense class (Krav Maga for those who know it), and although I'm not by any means a pro, I can handle myself a bit better than I used to be able to. I'm not sure how it would have gone had it kicked off, but I'm wondering, did I play this right?

I'm pissed because he obviously got away with threatening me, and the woman got away with theft (I'm not holier-than-thou, but stealing from small local businesses annoys the hell out of me), and essentially nothing happened to these horrible people.

I'm also wondering, how do I get over feeling like I was 'emasculated' or otherwise made to 'back down' by another man? I know that this is the testosterone talking, but I feel like I perhaps should have stood my ground more, said that he could either try and stop me or walk the fuck away, or some other macho posturing bullshit. Did I do the right thing by talking him down, even if that involved me 'surrending'?

Bah, annoyed, worked up and need a punch bag!!
posted by Scottie_Bob to Human Relations (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
He didn't get away with anything, he's a punk who threatened an innocent person who was doing the right thing. You need to work on your self-esteem if you're even comparing yourself to a piece of shit like that.
posted by facetious at 8:39 AM on September 3, 2011 [17 favorites]

I (a lady-type) would have called out the woman for stealing immediately, and if some dude had gotten all up in my face about it I would have made a scene. This is not a safe thing to do, whether you're male or female. When we're out, my boyfriend is pretty good at spotting the situations that get me riled up, and has to do a lot of arm-tugging to get me to not react.

For instance, one time I "yelled" (I prefer to call it "assertively engaging in conversation") at a guy on the subway for spitting inside a train car. I cited public responsibility, increased tax dollars at having to deploy more workers to clean up other people's messes, etc. Word to the wise: the kind of people who spit indoors are not the kind of people who take kindly to reasoned discourse

I think you handled it just fine. Believe me--I UNDERSTAND how frustrating it is to have to bite your tongue and let the bad guys "get away" with stuff. Don't worry about your testosterone. I assure you it's just fine. You told a cop, and that's really the best you can do. Thanks for reporting it.
posted by phunniemee at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you did good. Something that gets left out of movies is that the potential consequences of a violent encounter can be extremely serious. This is why deescalating, walking away, or finding a nonviolent option is virtually always the smart thing, except in unusual situations. Also, outside of the movies, having some friends trumps knowing martial arts every time -- that would have been bad news.

So if that guy was going after your girlfriend, all bets are off and fuck the consequences. For some woman's trinket? Not worth it, and much better to do what you did: deescalate, let things become safe, and call the police.
posted by Forktine at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

You played this exactly right. You're still angry and that's probably why you're feeling this way... and yeah, need a good workout to blow off the steam you've accumulated!

Escalating would have been a terrible idea. He didn't get away with it, you told a proper authority who is equipped to handle the situation in the best way possible - and when you say "essentially nothing happened to these horrible people" -- what do you imagine should happen? They sound like a group of people who are leading a pretty miserable existence because they're unable to curb their more base instincts.

Unlike you, who has a nice life and a nice girlfriend and a stable, pleasant weekly shopping date like clockwork - and total command of your ability not to go off half cocked and escalate a situation over mostly useless stolen property that isn't yours. You don't need to be a vigilante to be awesome. In fact what's truly awesome is being composed and measured and being able to not engage with people who make you insane -- being able to walk away and trust that these things have a way of working themselves out.

That is awesome! You handled it awesomely. I'm sorry you were threatened by an awful person. You should be proud that you handled it right.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2011 [18 favorites]

Maybe you should talk about it with your Krav Maga instructor. A lot of instructors focus on physicality, even though many will happily give you training (role playing, advice, whatever) on verbal confrontations.

Worth a try. And also, you're with your girlfriend, there's a group of punks, and they're all keyed up having just committed a crime. Most people would not do a thing given any ONE of those variables. :-) Nice work.
posted by circular at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a tough call. He was reaching for something so part of you you might think you need to take him out before he did something. However there were a big group so part of you might think that you were completely outnumbered. Maybe this not knowing feeds into the feeling of helplessness. It's not nice to be held up at knife point, but at least at this stage you know your only option is submitting.

No combat system could ensure that you could take on 4 strong guys, chances are they'd mess you up.

In any case, it always feels shit if something like this happens, but you have to remember that these people are prepared to step outside the rules that normal people live by and go around like a pack of animals, so just hold onto the fact that you're a civilised person with intelligence, and hopefully the feelings will get better.

I can't tell you much about it, but if you live somewhere where you can get a gun it's an option to protect yourself if it comes to it.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2011

You did exactly the right thing. Here's a different way to think about the incident: Groups of people stick up for each other, and in a fight they might all fight together. There were two groups: The gang of four rough men, and you and your girlfriend. My choosing the non-violent route, you prevented a fight that might have drug your girlfriend into it. At a minimum, you kept her from seeing something pretty ugly.

I would guess that your girlfriend sees you as the hero of this story. You kept your cool, prevented things from getting out of control, and notified the authorities.
posted by Houstonian at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Of course you did the right thing. Escalating into a fight (of which the consequences could be very bad) to prove your machismo to some thug would have been retarded.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:11 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thing is, while self-defence training is great, in my experience it's no substitute for being a habitual user of violence in the initial stages of a confrontation such as you've had here. You're a normal, decent human being who doesn't deal with things in this way and doesn't go straight for the kill or get a cheap shot in. This is why you shouldn't feel emasculated, rather you're a person with the usual reluctance to resort to violence in the first instance. Chances are, if he'd actually attempted anything and forced you to fight, you'd have given it a fair go and your training would have come in handy then (not saying you'd be Bruce Lee, just that being a bit fitter and having a few techniques is better than not). Again, in my experience, it's better to remain someone reluctant to escalate while it's still ambiguous than become the sort of person who does use violence readily.
posted by Abiezer at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Some drunk idiot stole a trinket. Another drunk idiot was macho at you. Did they deserve a beatdown? Probably. But if everyone beat down everyone that deserved it, the whole world would be bruised and battered.

It would be silly to get into a fight and hurt someone, or get hurt yourself, in the situation you described.

It is important to remember that the idiot did not 'get away' with threatening you. You did the smart thing, and chose the path that led to everyone walking away with all their teeth. That was the best possible outcome. You were the one in control, not that punk. So good for you - you were the better person, and you achieved the best result.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments folks, really appreciated. I'm still a bit shaky, and reading all of this is actually getting me a little bit teary eyed from kind of 'reliving it' I suppose.

At my core, I know that I did the right thing, and I know that walking away and talking him down was the right thing to do.

@Abiezer, you're absolutely right. Unless you're using violence all the time, it's a massive effort to switch to using it every now and again (or even less than that usually), so even though he was fat, slow and drunk, he's far more used to using his fists than I will ever be.

@Horselover - flood of adrenaline is exactly what happened, and @circular, defo going to speak to my instructor about it, cause I think it's a big part of my training that's missing. 360 defense etc is fine and good, but there's a lot of 'pre' stuff that can be done, so I'd like to be able to better deal with the 'dump' and know how to respond to it.

@Not supplied - I live in the UK, so no gun for me. Even if I lived in the US, I don't think I'd be keen on that idea anyway.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2011

In situations like this, your adrenaline takes over. And you will do what your gut tells you is the right thing. You're over-thinking it now because you're not being fueled by the "flight, flight, or freeze" instinct, which takes over your body and forces you to do one of those 3 things, depending on which one will have the best outcome to ensure your survival. You survived without being attacked, so you did the exact right thing! Who knows, if you did something else, maybe this punk would have hit you, or followed you home and hit your more?
posted by katypickle at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2011

Best answer: Here is an explanation of the best way to deal with situations like this. Congratulations on not being an idiot. Of course you are still angry, but as has been explained, it's not an intellectual response; don't let your basic instincts go "nyaah nyaah" at you when you are in the right.
posted by tel3path at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

If you were English like meslef, the traditional coping strategy would be to go down the pub and pretend you had him and all his mates :P (though looking at you username you may hail from points further north and I hesitate to speak for our Caledonian cousins) Though Horselover Phattie's post-match warm-down advice is far more sensible.
posted by Abiezer at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2011

I would guess that your girlfriend sees you as the hero of this story. You kept your cool, prevented things from getting out of control, and notified the authorities.

I totally agree. He didn't get away with threatening you, he continued in what is no doubt an ingrained habit of being an asshole, and you showed him in at least a small way that people aren't just going to stand by and put up with it.

I respect a man who can deal with something like this with thought and consideration a million times more than someone who can't take being threatened without escalating. Good for you :)
posted by lemniskate at 9:34 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he didn't put his hands on you... you did the right thing.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:40 AM on September 3, 2011

In nyc a couple of years ago a martial arts expert (teacher, school-owner) was stabbed outside a bar. Another girl on the LES was shot for saying 'what are you going to do, shoot me?' To a bunch of teens (I think). It's just not worth it to fight on any level with irrational, violent people who have much less to lose (if they are not worried about committing crimes and facing losing their freedom) than you do. Don't sweat it. But...if you overthink it now then it does get emasculating in a way, because you are giving them too much power once the actual danger has passed. I think there is a buddhist saying about that too...about carrying someone across a river but then still continuing to carry them in your mind.
posted by bquarters at 9:55 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Waking up the next day is your first job. Every day.

You aren't the cops. Unless you are armed, and/or responding to a life/death situation involving something you can influence AND you are comfortable spending your life on behalf of strangers of whom you know nothing, calling the cops is superior to imitating them.

If YOU or your mate are threatened, and that means "in immediate risk of injury or death", aggression is seldom the best option. Exit is usually the best option. Waking up tomorrow is your first job, every day. Making sure your loved one do is your second job if circumstances demand it.

Any girl/boy who expects you to risk life and limb for show purposes deserves immediate dumping. Egos are much easier to repair than flesh.

In short, try not to be an idiot, with thugs or mate choices.
posted by FauxScot at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm also wondering, how do I get over feeling like I was 'emasculated' or otherwise made to 'back down' by another man?

Natural and hormonal. Acknowledge those feelings when they occur, but also tell yourself that you do not need to believe those thoughts. Do this over and over again.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also wondering, how do I get over feeling like I was 'emasculated' or otherwise made to 'back down' by another man?

You made the right choice, the wise choice, the STRONG choice here: you de-escalated, you let a potentially violent situation simmer down, you didn't put yourself or others in needless danger. That's strong.

I'm still a bit shaky, and reading all of this is actually getting me a little bit teary eyed from kind of 'reliving it' I suppose.

Yes, this makes perfect sense: some of your assessments of the situation come from your mind, but a huge chunk is coming from your body, which is still all riled up. Your body doesn't really know yet that the situation is over; let it catch up with you and get all cooled down. Then you'll probably feel a lot more confident that you did the right thing. Because YOU DID THE RIGHT THING.

I'm always so impressed when someone de-escalates a potentially violent situation. It takes more thought, more confidence, and more finesse to prevent a fight than to start one or to win one. Well done!
posted by Elsa at 10:10 AM on September 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

People who avoid being felt emasculated at all costs in situations like this are known as "cops" or "convicts."
posted by rhizome at 10:18 AM on September 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

Overall, I'd say you handled it well. It's pretty impossible to tell how threatening the guy was being, but knowing he was drunk in that situation, him reaching into his pocket during the confrontation would have made me assume he was going for a weapon. I have a fair amount of training in Jeet Kune Do, which is philosophically similar to Krav Maga, and we trained for situations like this.

I deal with aggressive, macho assholes fairly regularly because I'm a better pool player than most, and, if this makes any sense, I don't look like one, so sometimes drunk rednecks will get pretty bent out of shape when they can't beat me. My general strategy is to laugh at their posturing for several reasons. One, it's pretty funny. Two, it helps keep me calm, which is the most important thing if you might have to fight. Three, these guys don't know what to do when someone they're trying to pick a fight with is smiling in their face. Four, it makes it obvious to everyone around that you're not the aggressor should the whole thing go far enough that cops would get involved.

So, if i were in that situation, I would have said nothing, laughed at the, "don't be a hero," line (really? What is this, West Side Story?), glance around for a potential improvised weapon (for me), and walked past him to the store owner. The chances are very good that he's either do nothing or flee, and in the event of violence, I'd be better prepared than him. Plus, as you mention, there were cops not too far away.
posted by cmoj at 10:18 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Getting killed/maimed/hospital time does nobody any good. You did SOMETHING. Several somethings, in fact. He was: likely much more used to fighting. Probably armed with at least a bottle, if not more sharp stabby things or things to hit with. He had friends. You reacted quickly, well, and didnt get all bloody and missing teeth.
posted by Jacen at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Probably. But if everyone beat down everyone that deserved it, the whole world would be bruised and battered.

posted by ovvl at 10:36 AM on September 3, 2011

I'm pissed because he obviously got away with threatening me, and the woman got away with theft (I'm not holier-than-thou, but stealing from small local businesses annoys the hell out of me), and essentially nothing happened to these horrible people.
I don't think you really have to worry about that. It'll catch up with them eventually. Either they'll get caught doing something or they'll end up succumbing to the kind of thing that leads one to be a middle-aged person who acts like a delinquent teenager. Ultimately, these people are industrial-strength losers, and being a loser on that scale is pretty much its own punishment.

I agree that this is partly just the adrenaline rush, but I also think it's worth considering how your feelings jibe with your ideas about masculinity. I think a lot of guys internalize ideas about masculinity that are kind of at odds with their conscious thoughts about what kind of person they'd like to be. Men are told that a real man doesn't back down from a fight, but people who never back down from fights are generally people who don't have good impulse control and/or decision-making skills. What makes you a good man is that you have the self-control and judgment to know when you should walk away, rather than having to prove your manliness at every opportunity. You're a good man because you care about your community, which is why you were so pissed off about the woman stealing from the market in the first place. I think you should try to internalize a version of masculinity that takes into account those things, and not just one that's about the willingness to risk violence even when it's likely to be counterproductive.
posted by craichead at 10:42 AM on September 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

"I'm also wondering, how do I get over feeling like I was 'emasculated' or otherwise made to 'back down' by another man?"

One comment on that - your girlfriend was with you. If she's anything like me, if someone attacked my boyfriend, you can bet I'd be all up in that shit. Probably getting hurt since I have far more loyalty and bravery than skill.

So, you did the right thing.
posted by HopperFan at 10:47 AM on September 3, 2011

You did the right thing. A big part of self defense is avoiding violent encounters and de-escalating situations before they get out of hand. *You* control the encounter -- where do you want it to go? What do you want to have happen? Control the situation and you control your opponent.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2011

Backing down *is* the manly thing. Or at the least the menschly thing.

You did the right thing. Part of learning to fight is learning when not to fight, which is, frankly, most of the time.
posted by jrochest at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You handled the situation perfectly. My Mom was a therapist who ran a day treatment group for people with schizophrenia. She once said, "NEVER get into a confrontation with someone you don't know. You have no idea how many of my patients are out there".
posted by puddinghead at 11:10 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If I were your girlfriend, I'd be impressed and gratified that you handled this just as you did. You didn't escalate to violence, you didn't get yourself or anyone else hurt, and you reported the theft to the proper authority.

Sure, it's annoying to think maybe they got away with theft. And I don't blame you for feeling shaky after an altercation like that. But I think you handled it all just right!

They may also get caught anyway. Drinking steadily while stealing means they'll get careless, and I imagine the police kept an eye on them once you gave the guy the head's up.
posted by misha at 11:39 AM on September 3, 2011

You're alive. The shop owner has insurance. I think things went as well as can be expected.
posted by empath at 12:02 PM on September 3, 2011

Nthing those who said you did the right thing....the cops and stall owner are now aware of the potentially violent thieves.
posted by brujita at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forget the Krav Maga stuff. The guy would have most likely destroyed you after 10 months of training. And he was in a group. Nearly impossible to fight here.

Learn on your self confidence and how to stay out of trouble.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone has already pointed out the most important thing, which is that safety comes first. If you're still pissed off about them getting away with all this, consider also that while it is indeed annoying to see a small business suffer shoplifting, the consequences for the owner would also probably have been far worse had there been a physical altercation. Property loss; loss of customer base from becoming seen as an unsafe place; possibly a lawsuit -- all these could easily have resulted if you'd gone all aggro on the guy. You did fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2011

As for feeling emasculated. It's my strong suspicion that these situations are a negative-sum game, and that, more often than not, BOTH parties wind up feeling emasculated to some extent.

Intimidation-charged conflict (physical or otherwise) is one of the few areas where men rather than women are subjected to a bizarre and unattainable standard of Gender-Normative Behavior. You're kicking yourself the whole time for not quite managing the unflappable one-liners of Superman or Robocop; he's trying and failing to muster the full measure of intimidation of James Dean or Skeletor; in real life neither of you can possibly measure up to those standards, and so the best either of you can hope for is that the other one will do something pathetic and you'll triumph by default. So the possible outcomes are 1) neither party feels he's fully lived up to the barrel-chested Platonic form of manliness, or 2) one party just barely feels successful while the other looks completely debased and humiliated, or 3) there's a physical fight.

But from a third-party perspective, both players come off as a lot tougher than either realizes. You were in the right, you more-or-less stared him down, you never apologized to him, and your voice didn't crack? That's pretty much a victory by any objective measure, and -- as long as we are dealing in the currency of Who Did A Man Thing Here -- I'd have felt visceral testosterony respect for you had I been there, and probably tried to share some kind of mutually-validating interaction with you afterward, so as to borrow some of the We've Got Big Dicks Glory.
posted by foursentences at 1:15 PM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Calling somebody out for being a thief, and the willingness to look Thug in the eye makes them just slightly less likely to do it again. Even anti-social jerks are subject to social pressure. Your willingness to speak up is heroic. Practicing small acts of doing the right thing is a good thing. Not using violence to address violence is also a good thing. Yay, you. and Yay, you for coming out safe.
posted by theora55 at 1:53 PM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Intimidation-charged conflict (physical or otherwise) is one of the few areas where men rather than women are subjected to a bizarre and unattainable standard of Gender-Normative Behavior. . You're kicking yourself the whole time for not quite managing the unflappable one-liners of Superman or Robocop;

Oh, I wouldn't say that. I'm a lady and I do ladylike things, and yet I can identify with foursentences' post TO THE LETTER.

I can only join him in saying that I, too, would have felt visceral respect for you, indeed would have become your squeeing fangirl based on your actions, and would have covered you in lipstick prints and exclamations of "my hero!" Whereupon, I suppose, your girlfriend would have been obligated to beat me up.

Which only reinforces the truth: it's best to let our higher cognitive processes run the show.
posted by tel3path at 3:41 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many victims of violence have had The Gift of Fear recommended to them here. I don't think you necessarily need to read the book, but I'll share a bit that _I_ learned from it, having been victimized. The first time was a violent attack with a 2x4 by a trespasser; the second was a mugging. What I realized from both of these was that my offender was someone who was already inured to violence and also thus skilled at it.

This is sort of a corollary to the No-Nonsense guy's point about denying it's happening. I just couldn't imagine someone using a weapon like that until it was actually happening. This guy didn't need to imagine it -- he'd probably done it before. I hadn't been in a physical fight since grade school; he may have been in one the week or month before. He could size me up instantly; I had no expectation this was going to turn violent until it did. Most importantly, he had the advantage, the jump on me, because he knew the time and terms of the attack. As an armchair general I understand a bit of this, but had no way to apply it to real life.

Similarly, when I was mugged, the guy kept me off balance by some prattle where he accused me of being a racist practically before we'd exchanged any words at all, and I expected something would happen -- like an attack -- but not a mugging. In retrospect, he probably pegged me as a mark well before he actually approached me, again giving him the upper hand.

Basically, these were excuses for violence waiting for a victim to appear. You had a similar situation to that, but managed to avoid it escalating that far, and as said above, kudos for that. You avoided becoming a victim.

If you need to work this through try to see the situation through his eyes. Not for sympathy -- but to understand the dynamic you were in. By (apparently) threatening violence he was trying to dictate the terms of the engagement, the when and how. You won by not taking the bait. Yes, you felt powerless for a moment, but that's the whole point of the threat of violence.

I went through what you have in thinking about self-defense and how I could have countered this or that move. What if I'd grabbed a weapon myself? What if I'd gone this way instead of that way? You can spend a lifetime running through the possibilities. The real key, though, is to think about how you (almost) became a victim and about ways to avoid that in the future.

There's an aphorism that every war represents a failure of diplomacy. Sure, we remember the battles, the combatants, and the winners and losers. But we also know the price that is often paid even by winners of wars. It isn't worth it. Try to think of ways to avoid those outcomes instead of ways that you can win confrontations.
posted by dhartung at 5:31 PM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm pissed because he obviously got away with threatening me, and the woman got away with theft (I'm not holier-than-thou, but stealing from small local businesses annoys the hell out of me), and essentially nothing happened to these horrible people.
These are immature, adolescent feelings.

You handled it in a mature, responsible way. Good on you.
posted by aryma at 7:25 PM on September 3, 2011

Practicing self-defense is absolutely consistent with not challenging someone who you judge may be hiding a weapon, or committing yourself to a 4-on-2 confrontation. Would you be fighting for pride, or law and order? Are either of those things worth risking your life?
posted by eddydamascene at 5:35 PM on September 4, 2011

Generally agree that OP handled the situation well, and is to be commended.

But I don't quite agree with some of the comments about the 4-on-2 odds because this was a public place, presumably with passers-by.

Also, I have this vague sense that the modern tendency to avoid conflict and pass any and all responsibility for law and order to the cops is a bad thing that bad guys have sensed and are taking advantage of.
posted by markhu at 4:58 PM on November 8, 2011

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