Education, Other, philosophy

Kind Strangers, Angry Strangers

While in the changing room post-swim the other day, a poster caught my eye. Christchurch City Council’s new campaign, It’s Cool Not to Be Cruel centres around reminding people to treat CCC’s employees with basic human decency. Abuse towards customer service employees has been on the rise. Part of me was shocked to learn this, and the other was not surprised at all: just disgusted and embarrassed. That this is even a campaign that needs to be run. That people could treat others so horribly when they are literally just doing their job. We should always aim to be kind and patient with our hospitality workers, supermarket cashiers, the whole lot. They get enough garbage day to day from Stressed, Frazzled and Angry people who believe their emotions to permit them to be rude, snappy or just plain racist. People are just doing their best, you know?

Local Man Gets Mad in Car

Last Tuesday, during another teacher strike, we were met with a vitriol that was eerily similar. A man rolled down his car window and shouted directly at us that we should “go back to work”, that we were “being greedy”, that we get “12 weeks of holidays”, and insinuated that if we didn’t like our lot, we should find a different job. Another teacher retorted, saying “okay, then who’ll teach your children?” to which he didn’t have much of a response. I was in shock, and telling my colleagues to just not engage, that it wasn’t worth it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Reflecting on it, there were a bajillion things I would have liked to have said – some more constructive than others. In the heat of the moment, we all have our instinctual urges. Mine definitely seems to be to freeze up rather than lash out. Realistically, there’s no changing the minds of people of that opinion. The media coverage of the strikes and the governments latest offer has been misleading with the statistics to make things sound more desirable, and like we’re refusing a good deal. In reality, many of our requests have been ignored. The kinds of things I’m fighting for include my part-time colleagues – who presently plan for free, and work almost the same hours as full-timers for a fraction of the pay – getting the non-contacts* they deserve. We legitimately just want our pay to keep up with inflation and not work out to an hourly rate just a few dollars above minimum wage (assuming a 40 hour week and no more).

*a “non-contact” is teacher speak for paid time during the school day that is not actively teaching a class, commonly used for planning, marking, behaviour management, and administrative tasks.

Back to the dude though. It’s not useful to engage with someone who holds oppositional views to you in an antagonistic way. That’s how you have a blow up. Nothing productive happens – you could both have the best and most robust argument, but neither party is listening. Gentle probing, questioning, and curiosity on the other hand, can be disarming and cut through the anger. This stuff is backed up by research (that I need not go into here). I witnessed it firsthand when I participated in Tauiwi Tautoko’s inaugural cohort: an initiative for Pākehā to stand up to online racism towards Māori, as well as discrimination towards other marginalised groups.

Kind Strangers

Contrastingly, I had my first accident the other day. I was backing out of a carpark at the supermarket and heard a thunk behind me. My day was already not going the snazziest, and this tipped me over the edge. The woman whose car I hit, thankfully, was extremely understanding. She invited me into her vehicle, we traded details, and went on our way. I was quick to thank her for being so compassionate, knowing that an abrasive attitude would have added so much more unnecessary stress to the already anxious situation. She told me she had a daughter about my age and would have hated someone to treat her badly if it had happened to her.

It was the kind of experience that reminded me of the human-ness of us all. Perhaps that sounds a bit silly. Until that interaction, she was just another stranger to me, and I was just another stranger to her. Afterwards, I thought: “damn that was shit, but what a genuine person. There were far worse cars I could have hit…”. Staying calm in less than ideal circumstances is a valuable skill.

What kinds of interactions with strangers have you had recently? How’d they make you feel and why? It’s fascinating how people we hardly know can have significant impacts on us.


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