I’ve never really considered myself a confrontational person, but if I see something happening where I feel someone is being treated badly, I feel like I have to do something about it.
Today, Jean Philippe and I had plans to go out into Melbourne. The weather was nice so I put on a skirt and we headed outside. Immediately, I realized this would not be a good idea as it was windy and I didn’t want to be worrying about whether or not my skirt would fly up the whole day.
I ran back into the apartment to change into some pants and JP waited for me at the tram stop which is really close by.
Right under our apartment is a grocery store and generally a homeless person will sit in front of it. As I was walking towards JP, I passed a homeless man and then noticed a belligerent man yelling and cursing, walking toward him. He was yelling something about him sitting there and begging (when really the homeless man was just sitting, minding his own business. He’s often there but I’ve never actually seen him ask anyone for money before).
I could feel my whole body getting angry and worried. I absolutely hate when homeless people are attacked for something that is often out of their control, so I found myself turning back the other way racing towards the confrontation. The homeless man sat there and looked down as the belligerent man started getting in his face and screaming at him.
I wasn’t planning on communicating with the belligerent man at all. And I really didn’t evaluate the situation, I just found my body moving towards it. Generally the advice I’ve seen in bystander intervention scenarios is for the person intervening to not communicate with the antagonizer, but to check on the person who is being antagonized. I sat right next to the homeless man and asked if he was okay.
JP ran towards me and the belligerent man was not happy we were there. I didn’t exchange any words with him, I just sat there. JP was standing right next to me and the belligerent man started screaming at the both of us and cursing at JP.
“Why are you calling me this?” JP asked.
“Because you’re not minding your own fucking business!”
“That’s my wife!”
“Well, tell her to mind her own fucking business!”
The belligerent man started yelling about how the homeless man owed him money. Out of nowhere, his sister appeared pointing at me and demanding what I said to her brother. I still just sat there. I didn’t want to get into it with anyone, I really was just concerned for this homeless man and didn’t feel right about walking away from the situation. But in that moment, I started to feel scared.
Eventually, after a few insults about us being foreigners (Yankee and Asian, not from this country, blah blah blah…which looking back is kind of funny. I am a “Yankee” and Asian, so that’s not really an insult even if it was intended to be. lol. I’ve been called worse) the belligerent man and his sister walked away. He was clearly drunk and maybe on something else. I asked the man sitting if he was okay, he silently nodded and I got up with JP and we walked away.
“Are you okay?” JP asked. I nodded but soon found myself crying.
I’m a pretty sensitive person and I’ve never been in a confrontational situation like that, but it took me aback by how much stress I suddenly felt.
We got on the tram but I felt very shaken up. Had I done the right thing? Should I have sat down or did that make things worse? The attention was definitely taken off of the homeless man, but had I put JP and I in any danger? Was intervening worth it?
JP and I got off after a few stops when I found myself feeling really emotional. We sat down on the grass. I didn’t want to talk about what had just happened because for some reason I felt myself starting to cry whenever I tried to explain how I was feeling.
Finally, I told JP how I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing.
“I’m glad you’re not a bystander,” JP said, “just please don’t do that when I’m not there. I’ve seen situations like that escalate pretty quickly and they can put you in danger.”
I hadn’t really processed what the relationship between the belligerent man and the homeless man was, or if there was one at all. When I first saw him getting yelled at, I thought he was screaming at him for being homeless. I didn’t take time to evaluate the situation, I simply intervened.
JP noted it looked like they knew each other and the homeless man did nod and say he would get the man his money. The belligerent man was probably a drug dealer and that’s what the confrontation was most likely about. (Basing this off of the belligerent man’s actions, appearance, mannerisms and conversation).
“Oh,” I realized, “I guess I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t have any plans to talk to him, I just wanted to make sure the guy was okay. The situation didn’t seem right.”
“Nothing about that seemed right,” JP agreed, “I’m happy you intervened. I’m proud of you. It shows who you are,” he said hugging me.
I nodded but as much as I tried, I felt shaken. Even writing this post now and thinking about the heated conversation makes me anxious.
I do wish that I had stopped for a moment to see what was happening before trying to diffuse the situation. I don’t like relying on the old age notion of men protecting their partners, but I did feel so much safer with JP there than I would have if I were alone. And I’m not sure I would have rushed to action if he hadn’t been there.
But I’m also surprised how upset I feel about today. I feel sort of scared still.
In the future, I’m definitely going to pay more attention and stop for a moment before intervening.
What do you all think? When there’s something happening that you don’t think is right, do you do something about it? Do you worry for your own safety?
Let me know.