Having been based in New York City my entire career, you can imagine how I’ve had to become acclimated to unsavory personalities. If I tore into every person who deserved the riot act — the rude, drunk dude at happy hour; straphangers taking up two crowded subway seats; old ladies in walkers making me late for work — I’d be in a conflict on every other corner.
In other words, I let a lot of bullshit from people roll off my back like water off a duck’s ass.
When, though, is it appropriate to let someone have it? And how do we recognize when we shouldn’t be a dick?
Let’s start with the fun stuff: A license to curse somebody completely the fuck out. Say you screen a telemarketing call six times in a single week from the same company. It’s absolutely fine to pick up the seventh time, tell that cocksucker to put you on the Do Not Call List, and hey, also, go fuck yourself. Or, if the mechanic says you need an entire new radiator pump, but a second mechanic reveals all you really need is a new steam hose, by all means, should he contact you, let the first guy know he’s a piece of shit.
In short, if someone is trying to rip you off or otherwise take advantage of you, or if someone repeatedly violates your personal space or privacy, that person has officially activated your “tear-them-a-new-one” gold card. Use it, and use it heartily.
But in lesser cases, you’re better off letting things slide. Some people are just incompetent, while others may simply be powerless to do what you’re asking of them (like every person you’ve ever had to deal with for problems with your credit card). Knowing when to just brush the dirt off your shoulders and chill will help you stay out of perpetual, unhelpful squabbles.
Case in point: A few years back, a friend and I were having after-work drinks at an outdoor bar. It was the beginning of May, so the weather was breaking warm and the bar was packed. I was wearing a new suit. Suddenly, someone bumped into me from behind with an elbow, and soon, I felt dampness on my back. Some drunk klutz had spilled his Pilsner all over my new duds.
Me: Yo, bro, what the fuck?!
Him: Sorry, man. It just happened.
Me: It just happened?! This is a brand-new suit! Where I’m from you get knocked out for bullshit like this!
My friend: [clutching his arm around my shoulder] Joel, it’s cool, man. It’s just a suit.
It might sound dumb, but it felt like an epiphany: It took a good friend to show me that life is too short to sweat the small stuff. And the truth is, most conflicts are small stuff. Was spilled beer on my suit worth getting into a bar brawl? What if we’d grappled and one of our heads hit the ground? In cases like these, it’s like what Kenny Rogers says on “The Gambler”: “Know when to walk away. And when to run.”
Some people, though, just don’t know the difference — and they never learn, utterly losing control time and again. For example, remember this video, when the woman at the McDonald’s drive-thru went bat-shit crazy on the employee over running out of McNuggets?
Or what about this woman who lost it on Dunkin’ Donuts workers over the way she was given back her change?
These are textbook examples of when not to lose your shit on people. Just let it slide.
“Most of us are able to get angry, and express our frustration in a constructive way,” therapist Diane Kolodzinski told CBS New York News. But others, as she points out, can be sent over the edge incredibly fast, over something as little as spilled milk (or beer on their suit). “They go zero to 100 really fast,” she says.
Some experts even believe these people could be suffering from a condition called intermittent explosive disorder, or IED, and say that as many as one in 20 people now suffer from the it. “Yelling, screaming, throwing things, hitting the wall,” Kolodzinski detailed. “They could hit the other person or push them. But there’s definitely hope out there and help out there, if you reach out.”
And if help is unavailable? Count to 10 or however long it takes for you to calm the fuck down before losing your shit on that drive-thru worker who shorted you a chicken tender.
After all, it’s just a chicken tender, man.