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Don’t be a dick

July 6, 2011

There’s an intersection near my house that can be a little confusing. After the intersection, one road splits and its lanes are divided by a drainage canal. Traffic is one-way on either side of the canal. Occasionally, people will turn too early and end up on the wrong side of the canal, going the wrong way.

Such a mix-up was the motivation for today’s post. I was heading out to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon with my (patient and understanding) wife. As I approached the aforementioned intersection, a small, domestic pickup truck mistakenly turned onto my side of the canal. The road is reasonably wide so there was no real danger of an impact, but I was instantly annoyed. We both stopped about 10 feet from each other for a moment. I could see that the bed of the truck was filled with the random detritus of a weekend yard-sale hunt and that the cab contained at least one more body than it had been designed for. In that moment, I made several snap judgments. We turned to make room and approached each other. I rolled down my window. As we passed, the driver of the truck smiled and started to say something. But instead of listening, I let fly with a scornful remark. Something like, “wrong way, genius!”

Angry manI rolled up my window and moved on. Almost immediately, due in no small part to gentle admonishment by my wife, I felt like a world-class asshole. Going the wrong way at that intersection is a common, relatively harmless mistake. Traffic is not heavy at that time of day. There was no danger. He was less than 20 yards from a side-street which would have afforded him an opportunity to get on the correct path. Furthermore, the guy had evidently recognized his error and was likely attempting to apologize or at least acknowledge it. And rather than wait the second-and-a-half it would have taken him to say something, I chose to be a dick.

I’m not a dick. Not really. Not since college. But there I was, withholding the benefit of the doubt from another human being who had really done me no harm. Not to over-dramatize it, but I can still see his face in my mind. Smiling. Mouth open (presumably) in apology. Every time I think about it, I wince. Why did I do that? Why would anyone do that?

I, from the bubble of my vehicle, felt comfortable in that instant and found it easy to attack this guy. Effectively, I became the living embodiment of a YouTube comment. Have you ever read the comments section on an average YouTube video? Talk about a wretched hive of scum and villainy! I’m half surprised I didn’t call the guy a “faggot ass” or something similarly nonsensical yet venomous. (Homophobic epithets are rampant in YouTube comments.) There’s a recent adage that says “anonymity + audience = asshole.” Hiding behind one’s Internet persona, one can be as hateful as possible while maintaining a safe assumption that one’s identity and physical person are protected. Most people do it because they don’t know any better, or they don’t stop to think about it. A few people do it deliberately, and they’re called “trolls.”

I’m not going to wax nostalgic for a time that has never existed; a mythical time when humans were always polite to one another. Our history is filled with needless vitriol, scorn, and violence. (Opprobrium! Aspersion! Denigration!) It’s not like there really were any “good old days” when we treated each other better. And it’s not even politeness I’m necessarily concerned about. There are any number of impolite remarks I could have used in my scenario that would have been less personal and less . . . well, dickish. We separate ourselves. And from some place of relative safety and anonymity we lob hate-grenades without a care for who gets hit by the shrapnel.

So today I’m using my little corner of the Internet, my little soapbox, to plead for less dick-like behavior. Please, dear readers, remember to wait a second. Take a breath. And don’t be a dick.

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3 Comments
  1. T. D. Ruth permalink
    July 6, 2011 3:39 pm

    As you note, this phenomena existed long before the Internet and, in fact, the jerky comments are only a modern manifestation of it, just as 70+ years ago your little bit of road rage would have been considered a manifestation brought on by the popularity of automobiles.

    And seriously, reading your article, I was totally thinking of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKBJCiJO5XU

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