Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
I’ve called my blog Strive to Engage and you are probably wondering why that is:
I’d like to share a short anecdote with you about what I mean by being engaged. First I’ll need to set the context; I love to read and my bus ride to and from work is a sacred time for me to read without being interrupted (I have two young children at home and a hectic job so there are no reading opportunities at either end of my bus trip!). I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for my next bus and blissfully reading The Open Road by Pico Iyer when I became aware of an annoying teenage boy riding up and back on the narrow strip of paving separating the seats from the buses. I watched the boy recklessly riding up and back past elderly people, a heavily pregnant woman and young children, doing quick stops, spinning the bike around and generally making a nuisance of himself while checking for responses from travellers. I was impressed to see an elderly man confront the boy but disappointed to see the boy say something rude and turn his back on the man to make another traverse of the narrow footpath/loading area.
I pondered the saying that it’s in a crowded setting that an individual has the least chance of getting help and played over in my mind the horrific footage of a girl being hit by a car in China while pedestrians passed by and nobody helped her. The next thing that I knew I was standing in the middle of the footpath with my feet spread wide apart and firmly planted, my arms crossed and the book with the photo of the Dalai Lama on the cover held outwards like a talisman, thus blocking the path of the boy (as an aside I’m tall (178cm or 5′ 10″ but lean 58kg or 9 stone, 2 lbs so I don’t think I’m particularly physically menacing). He rode right up to me with the intent to ride into me, just stopping at the last instant but I held my ground. I insisted that it was antisocial behaviour to ride his BMX bike in a crowded place with vulnerable people around him and gestured towards the young child right next to the wheel that he was pivoting around in the air). The boy yelled in my face that he would call the Police and that he had the right to ride wherever he wanted. I retorted that he had no rights in this situation and I would be happy to speak to the Police about the matter. He slunk off to the other end of the bus stop and I turned to watch him carefully. He dropped some rubbish and started another ride along the footpath but I stopped him again and insisted that he pick up his rubbish. He refused, saying that I was not his mother. I almost laughed at this point because I realised that I was treating him in the way that I would treat my own children. Instead I started to count (yes this is most embarrassing to admit that I started counting to 3 even though I had no backup plan and anyway, who disciplines a stranger? I do apparently). Amazingly he dismounted, picked up the rubbish and put it in the bin. I continued to keep an eye on him where he was slinking around at the other end of the bus stop while other passengers came up to me and thanked me for my efforts.
At that point I realised that I was still standing in the same position in the middle of the footpath, feet still planted, arms crossed and talisman still on display. I also realised that my legs were shaking with adrenaline. The boy called out that I should stop staring at him and I realised that I’d made my point so I took a seat and tried to return to my book. At that point the boy walked his bike up to me and apologised, held out his hand and introduced himself to me. It was surreal. I actually couldn’t believe that it had turned out that way. He went on to explain that he’d been bullied that afternoon so I counselled him on how to get help to put a stop to the bullying. He went on to admit that he’d been antisocial and he thanked me for standing up to him and when his bus arrived he waved to me as he boarded his bus. Amazing but true!
As a footnote I afterwards realised that he could have attacked me and that I myself was in a vulnerable position for confronting him. It was with dismay that the very next week I read in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell the scene where Timothy Cavendish was mugged by three teenage girls (it’s great writing so I’m going to share the quote here and you can read my review of the book here!):
A trio of teenettes, dressed like Prostitute Barbie, approached, drift-netting the width of the pavement. I stepped into the road to avoid collision. But as we drew level they tore wrappers off their lurid ice-lollies and just dropped them… ‘You know, you should pick those up.’ A snorted ‘Whatchyoo gonna do ’bout’ it? glanced off my back… ‘I have no intention of doing anything about it,’ I remarked, over my shoulder, ‘I merely said that you —‘ My knees buckled and the pavement cracked my cheek… A sharp knee squashed my face into leaf-mould. I tasted blood. My sixtysomething wrist was winched back through ninety degrees of agony, and my Ingersoll Solar was unclasped.