A person, finished filling a car with gas, prepares to leave a gas station. Three pedestrians stand in the middle of the parking lot.
The driver pauses, waiting for the pedestrians to pass. The pedestrians don't move. One of them says to the driver, "Go. Go!"
The driver also does not move. They are in a stand-off of immobility, each waiting for the other to proceed.
The pedestrian who spoke speaks again. "You going to go, or what? You need to learn how to drive."
The driver moves forward.
The pedestrians pass after the driver has moved. Seeing a young child in the back of the driver's car, the vocal pedestrian shouts back, "You got your son with you, you need to learn how to drive!"
So, look. However this interaction happens, it sucks, right? Like, regardless of who is in what position, nothing about this interaction is positive for anyone. The vocal pedestrian is clearly angry. The driver is startled and confused at best.
Just for kicks, let's complicate it. Let's start casting the players.
The driver is a black man. The pedestrian is a white woman. What does that change? How does the context change the interaction? What do you assume about the driver? The pedestrian?
What if, instead, the driver is a woman with an invisible disability? Or a teen mother? Or a man just returning from the funeral of his best friend? What if the driver has a bumper sticker that reads "Proud Grandma," or "Save the Whales," or "Bomb them all and let God sort 'em out"?
What if the pedestrian is carrying a baby? Is on crutches? Has a swastika tattoo?
I don't know how to talk about this, really. Context matters. Of course it matters. It's important that the driver values politeness in a way that makes him wait for the pedestrians to cross the street. It's important that the pedestrian is already having a bad day and just wants the driver to move so that she can get on with her life. If the driver is black, that's important. If the pedestrian is not, that's important. It would be important if it were the other way around, too.
But here's the thing. It still sucks, right? No matter what the context is, no matter what kind of day each of them is having, nothing about the way this goes down makes it better for either of them.
There is no compassion here. No connection. We're building walls, not bridges.
As the pedestrian, I know what I should do in this situation. Take a breath, wave the driver on. If he refuses to go and instead insists on waiting for me, go, and grumble to myself if I must, but move on with my day.
But what if I'm the driver? Or anyone else who gets shouted at with no expectation of response? How do I get past that? How do I brush it aside without making harmful and wildly inaccurate (at best) assumptions about the shouter?
I don't know. I'm better at dealing with people up close than through a car window. I've never know how to handle it when people are angry with me for reasons I can't explain. I like my universe to make sense. If anyone has any insights or ideas, please let me know.