Jan 072012

I gave you my “I’m a happy green dot on a bike spreading friendliness!” story in my previous post. This is the rest of the story about why it mattered to me enough to write about it.

I didn’t get the deeper training in the Green Dot approach to violence prevention; I just have the basic idea. But now that I’m aware of the simple concept—that I can make one difference with one interaction, and that all those differences will add up and change what we define as acceptable in the world—I am more apt to do it.

Mind you, I’ve always believed one person’s actions make a difference. But it’s a lot easier to throw newspapers in the recycling bin or remember my cloth bags at the grocery store than it is to deal with violence.

And because I didn’t do something when I think I should have, I feel a moral obligation to pay attention.

Now for the story: an example of being aware, not knowing what to do, and going on my way—

I was riding home one day last year up Sherman, somewhere around Ninth or so, and passed a couple on the other side of the street having an argument. One was in a big black SUV with the door open, the other standing beside the vehicle door. They were yelling at each other in a way that made me think this situation was going to escalate.

I honestly couldn’t tell who would hit who first. They were both furious and yelling with that hard, hurtful tone that means you don’t care at all about the other person, except to the extent that “caring” can be defined as “you can still really get under my skin and piss me off.” It sounded like a custody or visitation fight–one of those with lots of sentences involving “You always!” and “You never!”

I slowed as I pedaled toward them, thinking that I didn’t want to read about this in the paper the next day and realize I could have done something. I thought that maybe if they knew they were being observed they might take a breath, maybe get a little embarrassed and realize it had gotten out of hand very publicly.

I went past them, still pedaling more slowly than usual. I went up the hill a little farther, thought, “I can’t just pass this by,” did a slow U-turn, and coasted downhill gently.

As I got closer they continued to yell. I glanced at the situation to assess whether I felt personally safe if I did intervene in some way.

I realized two things.

One, I had no idea what to do. Say something? Pretend I had a flat tire in front of their house and stop to fiddle with it? (still hoping for that “embarrassment intervention”)

Two, the person in the SUV could kill me with the vehicle, even if there were no other weapon immediately available. If I intervened in a domestic violence situation—every police officer’s least favorite call to respond to, right?—I could end up the victim. The dead victim. The “Why was she so stupid?!” dead victim. If I stopped on that sidewalk I was just a few feet away from 4,300 pounds of lethal steel.

I coasted past the house, did another slow U-turn, and rode back up the hill, wondering all the way home what I could have done differently.

I thought about calling the police department. Maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed that, but at the time I honestly figured they’re short-staffed thanks to years of shrinking budgets and two people yelling at each other was going to be pretty far down the list. I hadn’t wanted to actually stare at the yellers so I couldn’t give much of a description. I rationalized my way out of it.

I hope that situation didn’t end in violence. I didn’t read about anything around that address in the paper the next day. I glance toward the houses on that side of the street as I ride by these days, not sure I can even remember exactly which house it was.

I wish I’d done something.

I can be a happy green dot, smiling at you when I ride by and just filling your day full of merry sunshine and rainbows. That’s easy.

It will be tougher to pay that extra bit of attention, to try to decide if I should stop and fiddle with my brakes or take my jacket off or ask for directions, or stop on the next corner, pull out my cell phone, and dial 9-1-1—anything to interrupt the momentum that could be building toward something I don’t want to read about in the paper. Something I don’t want to have happen to my neighbor, or my friend, or my daughters, or anyone.

If you tell me I shouldn’t get involved, I will tell you those two people were somebody’s daughter, somebody’s son, maybe some toddler’s mom and dad. I am involved because I am human, and because I want you to be involved when that’s your kid, or my kid, in that situation or any other that threatens harm.

It doesn’t have to be domestic violence. It could be bullying. It could be racist hate speech. It could be anti-gay words or actions. It could be a parent yanking a kid too hard by the wrist.

I need to act. We need to act. Because if we don’t get involved, the red dots win.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to act but were afraid to or didn’t know what to do?
  • Have you taken action to intervene in a bad situation, or one you suspected might be bad? What happened?


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Reader Comments

  1. Thanks Barb. We do have to step up, and you have said why with grace, elegance, and humanism. Brought tears. My daughter leaves next month for Europe, and GU’s Florence program and a month of travel before that over there.

    Thankfully, her burly BF is with her but still they won’t be together 24×7. So I have to hope and pray that a green dot person(s) will be around if she’s gets into a dispute that may lead to worse. I have faith there will be, and you helped strength that faith. Much obliged.

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