Advice From the Trenches

Rage Mode: One writer asks how to deal with rage

Dear C and Dr. B;

This morning I woke up to news stories of violence and looting in downtown Providence. It shocked me to the core to see this happening in my own city – people breaking into the newly reopened Providence Place Mall, breaking store windows along Westminster and trashing businesses that people worked so hard to build up, burning police cars…the whole city was in mourning as it tried to clean up today.

What hit home even further was a scene I witnessed in a grocery store this same morning. It started as a misunderstanding by an impatient and pissed off woman, who subsequently verbally accosted another woman who wasn’t doing anything but checking her groceries through the self-check-out. That woman’s companion decided to get into it with the angry woman, who got abusively angry and began hurling more profanity and insults. The companion in turn hurled some insults back at her that I never would have expected to come out of his mouth. The adrenaline was surging so strongly in the screaming woman that she was shaking and the innocent woman’s companion was so angry he walked out of the store with the cart and left the woman who was the target of all this undeserved rage stranded at the register with her groceries. I felt like I was watching something start that could have ended in gun shots or other physical damage, these people were SO angry at each other. What is a person supposed to do when they find themselves right next to this behavior, out of nowhere? I was midway through a checkout trapped on the bylines. It scared the crap out of me.


Dr. B says: A book I am reading calls this the perfect storm – the fear, anxiety and restlessness caused by the  pandemic restrictions has become bottled up. Added to this is a fear of the looming the unknown – climate change, terrorism and sensationalist news from the media yelling the sky is falling. Mix in some anxiety fueled by opportunistic politicians fanning the unrest and political divides to create and use chaos for their own advantage, and voilà – the whole country is on their last straw. 

What you can do is to stay calm – don’t add fuel to the growing fire. Perhaps if you just start singing some happy ditty everyone knows. People will be takin aback at first, but if you continue I’ll bet everyone will join in. It might break the tension and fear that the whole room is feeling. Right now, we all need to sing a happy song.   

C says: As a self-defense instructor, I don’t advise singing in such situations. This is a tactic that may work in an otherwise civilized group where people know each other, but I have seen agitated people go completely ballistic when a total stranger tried a similar approach. It can too easily be seen as belittling or insulting to the angry party. Anyone who starts an ugly shouting match in public is already itching for a fight, and they are likely to seize upon even well-intended gestures as cause for more anger.

If you are on the sidelines when an argument erupts and it is none of your business, stay out of it. Unless you are a member of store security or another authority with trained ability to intervene, then – 1) you have no legal right to interfere, and anything you do could backfire; you may even later be seen as another instigator; and, 2) if violence were to erupt, anyone who gets involved in the drama becomes a target. There is no way to predict who will be hurt. I would go so far as to recommend freezing on the spot, because movement draws attention. 

We’d all like to imagine that we could be heroes and save the day if a dangerous situation unfolded in front of us. But anyone who is actually trained to deal with such things knows that takes many hours of repetitive conditioning in order to remain controlled when those around you are losing their cool. If I saw a situation where someone was hurting a child, I know that my instincts as a mother would launch me into rescue mode, no matter what my intellect told me; but it still wouldn’t be a very smart thing to do. As a general rule of thumb, do NOT ever get involved in a fight between strangers unless it is under extraordinary circumstances and there is no way out. These days, many people are carrying around unspeakable rage and anger, and if you don’t know who you are dealing with, you may be putting a match to what could become a giant explosion.

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