in WWYD?

8. What Would You Do?

Continuing this sporadic blog experiment:
The other night, I got off work a little after midnight and was walking home from the transit station.  I was about to cut into an alleyway (alleyways are always so much more interesting to walk than streets), when I noticed a small woman and a large man shouting at each other about a block away from me (I think they were both somewhat drunk).  I decided to skip the alley, and as I got closer I heard the woman yell:

I don’t want to take you fucking home with me!  Not now, you’re fucking crazy!

The man was speaking and posturing aggressively (did I mention that he was quite large?  tall and broad-shouldered).  I also noticed that the woman had her cell phone in her hand.  Nobody else was around and no traffic was going by.
So, what would you do if you were me, and found yourself in that situation?  Don’t default to what you think the “right” thing to do would be, and don’t bother with what you would want to do, what do you think you would actually do?

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  1. I think coward in me would probably have stopped to watch the two or I probably would have walked past or gone an alternative route. I probably wouldn’t have done anything, fearing what the man could do to me.

  2. One can always hope for some miraculous unction from the Holy Spirit, but it is better to be somewhat prepared and think through this kind of situation, as many that work with homeless and street-involved usually are. The women, unless she has the martial arts skill of ‘Tomb Raider,’ is probably at risk, but, to get involved in this kind of argument is risky as well. What if you intervene and the women tells you to blow off should you then just leave her there? If the guy tells you to step off or else, are you ready to intervene between him and women? If he threatens you are you going to run or are you ready to non violently submit to a beat down, or, are you going to physically engage him and fight him? If (by chance) you beat him down (don’t assume the women will thank you btw) now what are you going to do? Take the women to a shelter? (they are probably all closed by now) or take her home? (what will your wife and kids say?) and if so, what if the guy tracks you down at home for retaliation and brings friends or weapons, have you now put your family at risk? It is possible that you can submit to a Christ-like beat down, and while you are picking yourself up and trying to stop the bleeding the two of them make up and just go off together and leave you there! Having dealt with violence against women in several homes growing up and later working on the streets, I have seen most of what I wrote above occur, and few other scenarios as well. So, here is what I would do. I am not a fast thinker and don’t always work things through, and I don’t like dealing with drunk or stoned people, especially if they are fighting they are just too damn dangerous and unpredictable, so I would ask loudly “is everything alright?” This doesn’t accuse anyone of anything or get you in the guys face it just let’s the guy know someone is watching and the women know that she has the possibility of help. That’s it. After that, anything could happen, most of it not good. (my wife actually got involved between two men in a somewhat similar situation, she has more guts and faith than me, and it ended up with the police and a ambulance, and she swears there was a miracle involved, but that’s another story). So, what did you do?

    • Hey Daniel,
      All the possibilities you mentioned have gone through my mind as well (this was not my first time in a situation like this). I just can’t shake the whole “blessed are the peacemakers” thing. Further, having experienced the shame of witnessing a violent event many years ago and failing to intervene, I have learned that some things feel worse than a physical beat-down (this is why I identify with Jim in Conrad’s novel). To be a Christian (a peacemaker) and to be a person who can look at himself in the mirror, requires me to do something when I encounter this sort of situation.
      I happened to have a small bag of potato chips in my hand and so I approached the couple with a smile on my face, while popping a chip in my mouth. “Hey,” I asked, “is everything okay?” and then I smiled and chewed my potato chip (which was delicious… I’ve been eating those things like crazy since I cut back on smoking). With my posture, my actions, my expression, and my tone of voice, I was seeking to communicate (a) I am not a threat; and (b) I am not at all threatened by what is happening here (i.e. lady, don’t be afraid of me but I can support you, and, dude, I’m not afraid of fighting you but I’m also not looking to fight you). This is a fine line to walk, but I’ve gotten better at it over the years.
      After I posed my question, the fellow tried to get rid of me, “Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine. It’s all good” and he tried to wave me on. The woman said nothing.
      I decided to ignore the man and (almost but not quite) turned my back on him while stepping between him and the woman, and I asked the woman, “are you okay? Do you need help? Would you like me to call the police or take you somewhere?”
      After hearing this, the man come very close to me, put his face very close to mine, glared at me aggressively, balled up his fists, and held his hands back as though he might strike me at any moment.
      I continued to smile and eat my potato chips (did I mention they were delicious).
      The woman also tried to placate me. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’ll be okay” she said… but I was concerned that she was putting her own personal safety aside in order to prevent me from getting beat-down (and the fellow could have easily beat me down… at that point I was planning on eating out of a straw for the next few months).
      I continued to ignore the fellow and repeated my questions to the woman, “Look, I really don’t mind staying with you or calling for help. I want to make sure that you’ll be okay.”
      She paused and thought for a moment and then repeated her original statement, “No, I’ll be okay. I don’t need your help.”
      “Okay, then,” I said. Turning to the man, I popped another chip in my mouth (yummy), smiled real big, and said, “you have a good night.” I then walked a few blocks away and turned to watch and make sure that the situation did not escalate any further (this was an important step as the man may have felt shamed at my involvement — which is why I tried hard not to shame him — and this would then heighten the risk of violence faced by the woman after I left). However, things actually calmed down, and so I left and walked the rest of the way home.

  3. probably just go near and stand there, i’d done that before when other people have fought in public and their was quite a bit of disrespect going on, i found that if i just want in and get close and just make sure they are aware of my presence it helps being sanity to the situation, of course, I guess, you take the risk of it turning on you…but i haven’t had that problem before.

  4. You chose well Dan. Going by your posted picture (you could pass for a younger, dashing, pre-diabetic, Bin-Laden) and the potato chip munching, along with the noir shadowed alley at midnight, which all-together perhaps projected the persona of a junk food starved Jihadist (with the voice of Orson Wells?); you probably made whatever personal problems they were having seem less urgent than the possibility of escaping a insomniatic terrorist on a carbo binge. Wise as serpents, gentle as…..well, the women made it through another night, bless you for caring and stopping.

  5. I love Dan Imburgria’s last response!
    I’ve been wondering about what a not quite 5-foot-tall young woman could do… The thing that works for me is that I’m definitely not a threat. And, for some reason, never seem to turn into a target of aggression either. At 31 years of age I still only look about 12, especially after dark.
    I guess I’m good at being “almost irrelevant but not quite”. I find that just standing there helps. But that’s on my good days. The rest of the time I’ll just take another way home.

    • Although I try to avoid involving the police in most situations, this would be one of those times when it could be appropriate to access them — especially if you’re a “not quite 5-foot-tall young woman” (although the “young” is a bit of a stretch, eh?).
      How’s life for you these days, Dany? I laughed when I saw that the post following your marriage announcement was entitled “OMG OMG OMG !!!” I thought you were writing about the wedding night!

  6. Hey, just followed links here from your great piece on NT Wright’s views on hell and damnation. I’m looking at Dare We Hope by Hans Urs Von Bathasar (or Johnny Bear from Balthasar, as I’ve heard him lovingly called) as I type 🙂
    ANYWHO…you know, it’s amazing what an impact just standing and watching can have. People get self conscious and aware that someone can see what they are doing and saying. You don’t really have to get that involved. You can stay a safe distance away, and if the tall brute takes offence, what is he going to do, scream at you to get lost? Just stay half a block a way and swallow your pride and run away if he tries to chase you. Then just follow him back. Infuriating and very effective, I think. The point isn’t to impress the girl, anyway, so no need to make a show and confront him physically. Also, it gives you time to observe long enough to give the police a real story if you choose to let them into the picture. I have no problem involving the police – in the inequality of physical strength between a large man and a woman (and me!) that’s why we pay their salaries with our tax bucks.