On Friday night, I decided to drop in on a friend of mine. I had the little dog with me, who thoroughly enjoyed playing with her dog. And us two ‘ladies’ got to have a couple of glasses of wine and a good chat. It was a really nice evening. And at 11pm I decided to make my way home, in a buoyant mood, ready for the weekend ahead.
As I passed the pub on the corner, my dog spotted another dog, and as is the custom amongst dog owners, I stopped to let them say ‘hello’ and made some polite remark to the other owner, about her dog being nice.
The owner of the other dog looked round at me with cold eyes, and with a slow American drawl, said:
“Really? Well I’m just not really caring right now.”
The woman then turned back to her male companion, who started to smirk, and they continued their conversation.
Clearly, this woman’s gratuitous remark was designed to be offensive. And it was. I’d been in such a good mood – but I was so taken aback by the meanness of her behaviour, that I ended up walking on to the bus stop feeling very upset.
I’m not a mean person. I get no pleasure from hurting other people’s feelings – especially total strangers who have been polite about my dog. And I was cross with myself for not being quicker off the mark to respond with an appropriate retort. And her behaviour made me suddenly feel alone. There would be no one waiting for me when I got home to give me a hug and say “she’s a bitch, don’t take any notice”, and I’m sure that’s why it stung so much.
The following night I was out again, this time at my American friend’s party. I mentioned to her and another American lady what had happened the night before. We joked about the different ways that Americans phrase things – and how Brits can be rude too, but in a different way!
On the way home, I decided to take the train – only to discover that there were maintenance works on the line, and it stopped three stops short. Way too far to walk in the cold late at night.
For the sake of safety, and because I was freezing, I decided to take a taxi. Needless to say, everyone else who’d been on the train had had the same idea.
Then, just as I spotted and hailed a taxi, I realised that I had slightly walked in front of another couple that were trying to get the same taxi. I felt really bad, so I asked them where they were going. They were going to exactly the same place as me, so I asked them if they wanted to share the taxi.
We all bundled in and set off home. They were a lovely couple and we chatted all the way to the top of my road, where I hopped out. I turned to give them some money for the taxi, but they completely refused! I really wasn’t expecting someone else to pay my fare. It was a selfless act of kindness to a complete stranger, which I couldn’t help feeling had counterbalanced the meanness of the woman I’d met the night before.
I realise that the events of the last few years may have made me more emotional than I might otherwise be. And maybe my reaction to the dog woman’s meanness is disproportionate. However, there is a principle in law called “eggshell skull”. I’m not a lawyer, so I apologise for any inaccuracies, but as I understand it, the principle is this:
If your actions cause harm to another person, you cannot use as a defence that they had an underlying condition that you could not have been aware of just by looking at them.
And you cannot use as defence the fact that the force you used would not have harmed another person and was only damaging because of the underlying condition.
I know that I have witnessed someone making what they think is a harmless remark, which has caused another person to rush off in tears. The person who made the remark almost always responds with “What did I say? It wasn’t that bad was it?”
And the chances are, it wasn’t ‘bad’, just careless.
So the whole point of this post is that carelessness and meanness can cause great upset to people, because of other issues in their lives that we know nothing about.
And similarly, an act of kindness can ‘lift’ someone who’s having a bit of a crappy time.
I certainly know what impact I’d rather have.