PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack
Life’s lessons come when you least expect them, and my mediation training comes in handy at such unexpected times.
Recently, my husband and I adopted another English springer spaniel- Buddy. He is about 6 years old, and my husband and I are still getting to know Buddy and his temperament.
Last weekend, I was walking Cookie and Buddy and went by a neighbor’s fence where there was a dog barking on the other side. Naturally, my two responded and so I moved out into the street. I saw a jogger coming towards me and as he passed very close to me, Buddy went towards him barking. Buddy never touched him. I reigned him in. In response, the jogger yelled that he was being “attacked” by my dogs and that he was going to “ F++K+++ kill my dogs”. My mediator training kicked in and rather than respond, I kept walking, saying nothing in response. The jogger kept yelling threatening my dogs and that he was going to call the police. He stopped jogging and called the police. I kept walking and the two dogs were quite calm ambling along with me. I did not respond as I did not want to escalate the situation, and I knew that anything I said would not calm this jogger down. Not even an apology. He was clearly over reacting and being verbally abusive with his threats. He was operating on pure emotion!
As I reached my home, I stopped and asked him very calmly and politely not once but several times, what was his name. He refused to tell me initially, and then eventually gave me only his first name. (I do not know if he told me the truth.) I then asked him what he did for a living, again calmly, and he told me he was a lawyer. When he asked me what I did, I told him I was lawyer as well to which he responded that I was a “sc++b+g”. I responded calmly by noting that I guess he was calling himself one as well. During this whole time, he was “ordering” me to go into my home, to get away from him and otherwise acting as if the offense at issue was a felony.
When the police (aka animal control) arrived a few minutes later, I walked up towards the officer and again, this jogger started “ordering” me to go into my home and get away from him. The dogs were extremely docile at this point, just “hanging around”. At the officer’s request, I did put the dogs in the house and then returned to the officer. As I approached, this jogger again started insisting that I get away from him in a loud tone of voice. At the officer’s request, I moved away to await my turn to explain what happened. At the appropriate time, I explained to the officer what happened in a calm voice.
Two things bother me the most about this incident: that the jogger refused to give me his name and that he threatened to kill my dogs. I did ask the police officer for his name, and she refused to tell me as well.
According to Wikipedia, “bullying” “…is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others….One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power which distinguishes bullying from conflict.” (I wonder if the fact I was a woman rather than a man had something to do with the jogger’s over reaction. Would he have acted the same had my husband been walking the dogs?)
The “bullying” can be purely verbal. As Wikipedia explains, it can consist of calling names, spreading rumors, threatening somebody (“I am going to F+++k+++g kill your dogs”) and is one of the most common forms of bullying. (See, Wikipedia at paragraph 2.1.2.). Interestingly, the article notes that bullying seems to more common in the legal profession than in some of the other professions. (Id. at paragraph 9.11.4)
How to respond? It seems that I did the right things. I walked away rather than respond, stayed calm and was aware of my physical and emotional reactions and kept them in check. When the police officer arrived, I calmly set out my version of what happened so that it would be documented, insisting that the officer note in the report that the jogger threatened to kill my dogs. (see, http://www.wikihow.com/Respond-to-an-Adult-Bully )
One last note, as my husband later pointed out to me; in the course of threatening me, this jogger probably violated one or more ethical rules for lawyers. His behavior is a sad commentary on our legal profession which the public already holds in low regard.
Life is strange and can provide lessons in the most unexpected places.
… Just something to think about.