My Unfortunate, Epic, Completely Avoidable Meltdown

Today I invite you on a journey, one that will eventually lead to one of my most dramatic confrontations in recent history.

In fact, it’s been just about a year since I brought you the tale of my last such incident in my blog post lessons learned from a major meltdown

Today’s has a different flavor. I’ll warn you now, it’s not pretty.

Though to be fair some journeys have ended far worse.

What I can say is if you stick with me there are lessons to be learned.

They’re all about conflict…what to do, and, in this case, what not to do.

Come along, won’t you?

The Beginning…

It started innocently enough.

Ryan and I were in a writing group together and often arrived at the same time.  He would park in the garage. I would park in my beloved meter spot on the street.

One day we were both stopped at a red light right before the building. It was one of those super long lights…and the streets were empty.

And so, on that particular day, I treated the light as…shall we say…more of a four-way stop. I figured nobody would care.

Ryan cared.

When he asked me if I knew I’d run a red light, I told him of course I did.

“You can’t do that,” he said.

I laughed, thinking he wasn’t serious. “Sure I can…it’s a free country.”

What I didn’t know at the time was his commitment to meticulously following all laws of all kinds. And how much it bugged him when others didn’t.

He told a mutual friend he planned to keep an eye on me, and might even have his police officer friend try to catch me in the act in the future.

I proclaimed this to be absolutely ridiculous. After that, Ryan and I didn’t bother with each other at all.

The Slow Simmer…

The silence between us in the group meetings said it all. We were no longer buds.

Eventually that silence wasn’t enough. Ryan began to arrive early and take the spot where I parked, sometimes moving his car after I’d pass by. He’d then go into the meeting and sit where I tended to sit.

I tried…really tried…to let it go.

After all, I’d say to myself, why let this guy get to me?

But after several weeks I decided enough was enough. One day I pulled him aside, told him I wanted to try to talk things through.

He refused, loudly proclaiming he never wanted to talk to me again. He told me to leave him alone.

Perhaps I should’ve done just that. But instead I said…

“Fine, if you don’t want to talk, let’s not talk. But if you keep pulling this passive aggressive stuff I’m not going to let it go the next time.”

Then me and my righteous indignation walked away.

The Spark Ignites…

The next week we arrived at the same light at the same time.  It was red, of course.

Can you guess what I did?

It was a split second decision.

I like to think that had I really thought about that choice, had I really considered how I want to conduct myself as a person, I’d have gone the other way.

But I didn’t. I went through the light and parked, thinking it would bug him just a bit.

Admittedly, it wasn’t my most mature moment. But I thought it would be fine.

The Explosion…

I was wrong.

What I didn’t think about was that Ryan’s triggers and temper might be different than mine.

The Guy…Freaked…Out.

He got out of the car and began screaming at me…horrible things. I tried everything to de-escalate the situation, but nothing worked until I just shut up. Exhausted and breathing heavy, he finally stopped yelling.

The Aftermath…

When we got inside I was shaking. So was he.

Everyone knew.  It was so uncomfortable that a few people left.

I tried to tell myself this was all his fault, but deep down I knew the truth.

  • As much as his behavior had been over the line, mine was too.
  • As much as he had been acting passive aggressive, so had I.
  • As much as he was part of the problem, so was I.

Did I blame myself for what felt like some emotional abuse? No, I don’t think that’s ever okay.

But at the same time I had to face facts. I’d made a poor choice. I hadn’t acted like the person I wanted to be. And it negatively impacted others.

I had to fix this as best I could.

The first thing I did was apologize to the others in the room. After the meeting I called those who had left and did the same.

The next thing I did was learn from it. Here’s what I figured out:

  1. We can’t assume that other people live by the same rules we do or feel the same way we do about things. They have their own  reasons for how they run their lives. Those will always differ from ours in some way.
  2. When we’re all fired up and ready to act on that emotion, we need to take a beat to see if our choice is really for the best. Sometimes we should take two.
  3. We need to know that we will screw up, and that sometimes we’ll need to fix it. This doesn’t make us bad people. We need to know that others will screw up, too. And this doesn’t make them bad people either.
  4. There will be times when we should fight our battles, when the time is right to defend ourselves. Which means we shouldn’t waste our energy on the things that don’t matter.

Wrapping It Up…

Conflict is unavoidable in life. It isn’t a bad thing. What makes all the difference is how we choose to respond to it.

Sure, not every conflict ends in ugly episodes like this one, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from every one…then use them all to be the outstanding people we are.

This Week…

Think about the you you want to show to others. Then act accordingly each day.

Oh, and you might not want to run any red lights.

Even if you think nobody will care.

Now, go do good…and do it well.


17 responses to “My Unfortunate, Epic, Completely Avoidable Meltdown”

  1. Mark Avatar

    Well, I applaud your self examination, but your buddy’s got some big issues of his own. So far as I can see, your only mistake was in taking the whole thing as personally as he did and then taunting him. He’s trying to fix you and you tried to put him in his place. That split second decision came from the frame of your thinking before that…like emotions, there’s nothing you can do when they hit because they were built well before that by what you thought.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for your support, Mark…I appreciate it and agree that everyone in this scenario has got some issues! The tricky thing, to be honest, was not beating myself up over and over for that split-second decision. Eventually you’ve got to just fix it and move on, but I think the fact that it impacted other people is what made the whole thing so regrettable. Nothing like bringing your own stuff into other people’s lives!

  2. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Deirdre, I applaud your honesty. Unfortunately sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way. Fortunately, nothing serious happened except your emotions got frayed. I’ve learned that taking care of myself physically and emotionally means I don’t have to fight the fight and win all the battles. Sounds as if you learned that too!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks so much…I’ve appreciated how so many people, including you, commented to me that the honest and somewhat raw tone of this made it a better piece (even if it stung a bit for this writer to put it out there!) The support has made the whole thing easier to swallow somehow!

  3. Caroline Salazar Avatar

    Deidre thank you for being so genuine, candid and honest. This is why I love you and your blogs. You cut to the chase, say it like it is and you’re such a real person both inside and out.

    I agree with you that forcing your opinions on other people is not the best way to handle situations, especially those that escalate. I do appreciate you sharing this experience with us to avoid behavior that will cause others angst and demonstrate the not so pretty side of us.

    I heard Matthew Kelley a motivational speaker a few months back who has written several books but makes it a point to say “Go out and be the best you.” One of the best wayw to do that is to learn from experiences like this and grow from them.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks so much for your comments, Caroline! I truly appreciate your thoughts about being a real person. To be honest I hesitated on putting this out there but in the end felt it would test out my own commitment to authenticity, so I gave it a go! I agree with that quote about being the “best you”…in the end, that’s really all any of us can do, yes?

  4. Hannah Avatar

    Ok, so you probably shouldn’t have run the red light the second time (although I secretly think that’s awesome!), but what’s good about your actions that you don’t give yourself much credit for, is that you confronted this troubled man with the intent of clearing things up. That takes courage and is admirable. When he responded poorly, you called him on it, and you were direct and clear. That’s my take away from the situation: it’s okay to stand up for yourself when someone is being crazy at you and if you get a little carried away, well that’s entirely human. I’m curious what you said in your apology phone calls. And how they responded.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for this, Hannah…appreciate the validation! 🙂 I was honest with my apologies – told everyone I made a split-second decision and didn’t think about how it would impact anybody else but the two of us. I said I was sorry for having my little battle impact them so negatively. In the end, everyone seemed to be fine, but I know that damage could very well be done with some of these relationships. Another warning about the price we pay when we don’t think things through…

  5. OmarFirestone Avatar

    Often people who have lost loved ones in car accidents will react unreasonably, even irrationally, to benign indiscretions they see as contributing to a “climate of driving license” (no pun intended).

    One might certainly call Ryan self-righteous. But perhaps he, like I, has known an (admittedly crazy) uban fixie hipster bicyclist who got killed (while riding at night w/o lights) by a red light runner.

    Recently I have seen the good friend I carpool with become agitated by motorists’ lapses of “etiquette”. This seemed hypocritical, as he has certainly committed his own share of “YeeHaa”-isms, until I realized his son will be learning to drive in a few years.

    Will you post an epilogue?

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for your thoughts, Omar…all absolutely well taken. The thing I’ve learned most from this is that to somehow assume every single one of us has had the same experiences and will therefore feel the same way about things is pretty ludicrous. I’ll post an epilogue, but to be honest the situation is still unfolding…we haven’t seen each other since the incident so I’m curious myself to see what I might be able to tell you in the future!

  6. emeryannharris Avatar

    A good friend of mine was killed by a red light runner who thought “hey no one’s coming”. Please don’t run red lights – you might think you don’t see anyone, but in the time it took you to make it across the intersection, someone may come around the corner unseen.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thank you for your comment…an important reminder for sure!

  7. Bryann (@balexandros) Avatar

    This was a riveting story (and lesson) for sure! You weren’t completely innocent, but in the end you rebounded and took the high road: you wanted to rectify the situation like adults.

    This reminds me of the movie 12 Angry Men. IIRC, it’s where a 12 man jury had to decide whether a young Latino was guilty or innocent of killing his father. 11 of them were already set to convict the supposed killer except for one discerning man — the protagonist — who believed the testimony and evidence didn’t add up. One by one, the protagonist was able to clear up each juror’s prejudices until he got to the very last man — the antagonist — who wouldn’t budge on his decision to convict the kid of murder. Finally, the last juror breaks down in tears, and everyone discovers that the antagonist’s son had ran away from home and left him. Cut off communication, I think.

    It takes a lot of inner strength to transcend a painful past. We may never know what tragic experiences color, or scar, people’s perceptions. Most times I can understand or respect those experiences which make people do the things they do — but in Righteous Ryan’s case, I can’t agree with his petty tactics in the first place.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Wow Bryann – what a great, thoughtful comment! I’ve seen the movie and can definitely see the parallel…petty tactics or not! 🙂

  8. […] when I thought I couldn’t learn any more humility after my recent shenanigans (see my last post for just one example), another humbling lesson came my way this […]

  9. Tim Avatar

    Great story. We must exercise our brains and use them to decide when it is appropriate to break rules and laws of all kinds. Otherwise it will be too easy to turn our society into a dictatorship. In your case it was completely appropriate the first and second time to run the red. Ryan should never visit Boston.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Or should he?? 🙂 Thanks for your great comment…and your kind validation of my actions!