Keeping My Mouth Shut in Public

Usually I’m a fairly reserved person. Ok, that’s a lie. Aside from when I was a small child and so deathly shy that my mum thought I had selective mutism, I’m not exactly “reserved”. But what I mean to say is that I’m not the type of person to get all cray-cray in public. I can be loud, but usually not in a “shout at random strangers” way. Usually.

My negative interaction with perfect strangers generally comes as a result of a combination of factors. Some are things I can’t tolerate: racism, bullying, child abuse etc. All of these create an emotional response in me. The other factors seem to be less respectable and more to do with my own emotional state at the time: tired, stressed, hangry (the lethal stage when hunger turns to pure rage).

My first memory of not having the ability to keep my trap shut is a very distant memory as a small child at the cinema. With family, of course. I wasn’t some rogue Oliver Twist. The film was ‘Home Alone’. One of the Macauley Culkin versions. Prior to his rehab. And prior to that unfunny little punk taking over in the third instalment. Should’ve stuck to the sequel, but they got greedy.

Anyway, in one part of the film Santa Claus is locked out of his car on a cold Winter’s eve. At this point everyone in the cinema starts laughing. According to my parents, it was at this point that I stood on my chair and yelled in my pipsqueak voice, “It’s NOT FUNNY!!”
Apparently it was, because that caused the crowd to laugh even harder. Fools. Didn’t they know Santa wouldn’t be bringing their Christmas goodies?

And now, just for the sake of balance, here is an example of an occasion where I did lose it in public and it was not for anyone’s benefit:
I recall going clothes shopping with my mum. This resulted in tears at least 98% of the time. That could genuinely be an underestimation. This was especially the case when she would remark to the 16 year old sales assistant, “Ooh dear, that’s a bit expensive, don’t you think darling?”. At which point I would mutter through gritted teeth, “They didn’t price the item, they’re just trying to bloody SELL it!”
“This is nice! What about this?” My mum would say at Crossroads. The 58 year old shoppers would all turn and nod in approval.

This one particular day, I had started to completely lose it and as my mum and I walked past a cafe, I was at the point of yelling. Then I caught sight of this old cow who had dramatically turned towards me with her face made up in an overdone expression of complete disgust.
“WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT??!!!!!”, I screamed as I stormed past, hoping she wasn’t quick enough to answer with “some grubby little brat who is making her mum’s life hell”.
Geez it felt good though! I could see the news headline now… “Teen Rebel Shocks Shoppers in Public Outburst”. Take that, society!
In fact, my mum never said anything. Having been quite the little pocket rocket herself as a youngun, I sensed a sliver of pride in her exhausted expression.

So, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll return to my more commendable moments of outspokenness.

Whenever we’re out and about and I sense some hint of injustice (I’m so tired I just tried to write “misjustness”. Thank goodness for spell check!), my husband usually mutters something like “Oh great, here we go again. Now I’m going to have to deal with it”. I just can NOT keep my mouth shut when it comes to other people being harassed or abused in public. My husband is a fair size of a guy, but my sense of justice didn’t just come about when I acquired a personal bodyguard. I’ve done boxing. I got this. Please see my previous post The Life of a Trendsetter for information on how I was in fact the first woman in history to take up boxing. Ever.

I remember being on the train with a friend when I overheard some deadbeat making racist remarks to a group of Asian international students. I listened for a bit to ensure I wasn’t going to make a fool of myself. I did the self talk type thing where I said “Ok, that’s it. One more thing and I am saying something!“… “No really, it’s gone too far. This time I’m saying something”. “Ok, that’s it! This time. Fo’. Real”. My friend saw my body tense up and started whispering, “No, please don’t say anything”. She knows me too well.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about bullies it’s that they’re not usually as tough as they think they are. People who pick on others are weak and sometimes they’ll shut up when someone puts them in their place. Not always, but I like to go with that option in my head. Otherwise I shall be needing to practise my Swift Kick In the Nether Regions Manoeuvre.

So I called this guy’s bluff and asked him who he thought he was and promptly told him to shut his trap. There. Easy. Then he broke down in tears and told us about his childhood and everyone on the train took part in a record-breaking group hug and broke out into a rendition of ‘Kumbaya’. Ok, so the last part didn’t really happen.
Here’s what really happened: Our train then prematurely terminated at the next station and we all had to pile out. As I stood there, I saw the guy making his way towards me. Crap. He’s been waiting for revenge. I haven’t even said my goodbyes. Who’s got a phone with credit I can use? I don’t even have a will yet! I’m too young to diiiiiiiie!
I quickly scan the platform to see if anyone will fight for me where I should place myself to be in my ultimate fighting position.

He strides on up to me. I stand tall. All five foot, one inch of me. I brace myself. “Hey, sorry about what I said before, love. I didn’t mean it”. Saaaay WHAAAAAT? I’m intact. But this is no time to back down. “Don’t say sorry to me, mate. Go and find those girls and apologise to them”. He looks a bit hurt and walks away. It occurs to me, maybe the guy isn’t such a lowlife. Maybe he’s just got his own issues. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have said anything. He went from hero to zero pretty quickly when someone stood up to him.

This outspokenness seems to have been passed on through the generations in my family. My dear old Loli (my nan) was the Queen Of Outspokenness. She would speak to anyone and everyone in the same manner, from four year olds to ninety-four year olds. From paupers to princes. It wouldn’t matter who you were. She used to say “You are no better than anyone, and no one is any better than you”. Gosh, I love that. She left that legacy. Treat everyone with the same respect you deserve to be treated with. I remember her telling a frightfully prison-escapee-looking-man to put out his cigarette. And he did! She had a way of making people do what she wanted via her “reasonable-cum-unreasonable” demands. Like how she used to tell us to pick an object off the floor because as small children we were “closer to the floor” than she was. Use any kind of illogical excuse and people will meet your demands.

My favourite quote is “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke. I’m not trying to be a hero, and I’m not recommending that people put themselves in a situation that’s unsafe, but again and again I see videos of people being racially abused on public transport. I hear on the news of teens being bashed and the video circulated on YouTube. I hear stories of people being bullied to the point of suicide.

It’s not good enough that we live in a society where people rush to put in their headphones and pretend not to notice when someone is being verbally attacked. Where a newspaper is put up as a screen to block what’s happening before our eyes.

I think its high time people started looking out for one another. In almost every situation like this there are bystanders who either stepped in or did nothing. I don’t want to be the person who did nothing.

Who knows, it might end up in a scenario like the one I was in at high school. I saw a younger kid getting bullied, so I stepped in and told the other kids to leave him alone. The kid who was getting bullied spun around and told me to “EFF off!”, then ran away. Hello, you turd! Didn’t I just go out on a limb for you?

Bizarre reaction or not, I knew I’d done the right thing. Maybe next time those kids will think twice about bullying someone. Maybe they won’t. Who knows! All I know is, I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut for a reason.

I’d love to hear your own stories and opinions on the matter! 🙂

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash


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