I was driving home from work the other evening, a little bit earlier than usual because it was one of the nicest days that we have had this spring here in Wisconsin and I wanted to enjoy some of it not staring at a computer monitor. I stopped to pick up my three-year-old from his daycare and we enjoyed the short ride home with the radio cranked up and the windows rolled down.
All of the sudden I noticed an older man on a motorcycle turn in behind me from one of the side streets and in no time he was following me very closely – within only a few feet of my bumper and hugging the double-yellow center line on the twisting two-lane residential road. I was going slightly faster than the posted 30 mph limit so I was mildly annoyed by this invasion of my space. Tailgating is a pet-peeve of mine and under normal circumstances I probably would have slowed down to about 15 mph to let him suffer in his impatience even more. But the sun was shining, a warm breeze was blowing into the cab of the truck, and my son and I were loving life too much to be interrupted by this yahoo on two wheels.
I simply tried to ignore him, but that was impossible. Not only was his figure prominently taking up the better part of the reflection in my side mirror, but his bike was so loud I could hear it howling over the wind and classic country playing pretty loudly on the radio. Then, suddenly, I heard the cycle rev up even louder and with a flash he flew by me on the left side at a speed that seemed to push the sound barrier (or at least it sounded like a sonic boom as he passed). Mind you, this was a residential area that was clearly designated “no passing” as illustrated by the two bright yellow lines that marked the middle of the roadway. I was pretty ticked off by this and felt like I needed to do *something*. But what?
So I increased my speed enough to catch up to him a couple hundred meters ahead when his momentum was further thwarted by another law abiding citizen. I quickly jotted down his license plate number. As that other safe driver turned down a different road, Motorcycle Man gunned it again and was off like he had been shot out of a cannon. Now I was even more infuriated so I sped off after him and when I got close snapped a pic with my cell phone. I figured the more evidence I had the easier it would be to hold him accountable.
As the chemicals dispatched by my amygdala began to dissipate several minutes later, I found myself thinking about this incident, and how it made me feel, is a lot like cyberbullying. I felt like I had been treated in a way that was uncalled for, unfair, and just plain wrong. And I wanted justice. I wanted some acknowledgment that what he did was wrong and assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. Much like in some cyberbullying incidents, the assailant was anonymous to me. I didn’t know who he was and was reacting only by the way he treated me. I felt helpless, frustrated, and angry, and my primal urge was to try to somehow get back at him – to retaliate. I sped up and followed him for a few miles deciding on a course of action but soon enough thought better of it. I mean, what exactly was I going to do?
I had collected some evidence of the upsetting encounter: a fuzzy picture along with his license plate number. Like an online username, the license plate number is a unique identifier that would enable the authorities to track the miscreant down. But as with a username, those with the power to unmask the identity of the transgressor would not likely provide that information to me without an order from a court. I did consider calling the police to report the reckless driver but decided against it thinking that they would not view this as a significant incident and it would not be followed up on. Many victims of cyberbullying also fail to report their experiences to the proper authorities (parents, teachers, counselors, or police officers) for the same reason. Maybe if I would have seen a commercial on TV or a PSA online that talked about cracking down on maniac motorcyclists I would have been more encouraged to report it. But as it was, I believed that I would be ridiculed by others if I admitted how much this stupid little incident actually upset me. So I kept it to myself.
In the end, I coped with this disrespectful treatment in much the same way I would have had I been mistreated in high school: I went for a run. Five miles in the 75 degree spring Wisconsin air can do wonders for the soul. It gave me plenty of time to clear out the cobwebs and think about more important things in my life. In fact, I tuned my iPhone to a playlist that included songs that very well could have been on the cassette tape in the Walkman on my hip while I was running in high school. It did the trick now as it did back then.
Unlike cyberbullying, my motorcycle incident only happened once, so it would be inaccurate to equate it to bullying which by definition occurs repeatedly over time. But, if the same thing happens to me today, whether by the same guy or someone different, I think I will be that much more distressed and even more likely to respond in a destructive way. I think that is what makes bullying so upsetting – most of us can tolerate an embarrassing or hurtful incident or two, but when they pile up over and over it can become too much for anyone to bear.
We all have these kinds of experiences where we feel like we have been disrespected or harmed in some way. As adults we maybe have some additional emotional and behavioral skills we can employ to talk ourselves out of inappropriate responses, but many teens lack these abilities. It is our responsibility to teach them appropriate coping skills and to model positive responses. Even though my three-year-old son is probably still too young to realize what was going on with Motorcycle Man, what if it happened when he was 12? He would have seen my reaction and learned that it is acceptable to drive at high speeds chasing someone when they did something wrong first. Our kids are watching and our response has a significant influence on how they might react when confronted with a similar situation down the road. Take the time to talk with youth about conflict and give them some tools to use when they find themselves engrossed in the everyday drama that seems to take over their life. And while you are at it, talk with them about road rage and how nothing productive can come from following a leather-clad biker at a high rate of speed into an unpopulated area.