Hell... Is Other People

March 22 2013 Opinion

Get up from your desk or chair or floor and go for a walk. Right now - I challenge you to do this. If you can walk through a crowded place - that's even better. Go by yourself, and soak it in... all of it...

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Garrett Is A JERK

It's 7:40am and I'm sitting outside my office with a warm, steamy cup of my favorite roast from Hanalei Roasting company. It's the perfect shade of rich, deep oakey-brown that tells me I hit the right mixture of milk and sugar.

I'm looking over the hills from the upstairs walkway in front of my office door. Behind me, the door is open and work is waiting for me... in front of me the sun is poking through the golden morning clouds and the dew from the damp air is everywhere.

It's quiet, and I'm loving it. Until Garrett entered my life.

Well, it was Garrett's girlfriend, actually. It started with a low, shrill sound that came from around the parking lot. It was muffled somewhat but it sounded like someone in trouble. Naturally I looked around, thinking someone might need my help.

Then all of a sudden the volume increased dramatically as she got out of her car. She was in full hysterics, yelling into the phone about how Garrett was a FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT JERK ASSHOLE etc. etc.

She stood there for about 30 seconds in the parking lot that was filling with cars as people came to work. They walked past her, careful not to look.

After a while she slammed the door of her car and stormed upstairs. She works in the office next to mine. I decided to give her some space so I went inside and shut the door. She decided to stay outside and vent her rage over the entire parking lot, into the golden sunrise morning I was just enjoying.

She stayed there for 20 minutes, then went inside. I got to learn all about Garrett... who apparently is not a very nice person.

Yeah Yeah Yeah

4 weeks ago I took my family to Kalihiwai Beach where we like to go for barbeques with friends. It was a lovely night, the sun setting much the same way it comes up: golden light poking through swollen, puffed clouds full of warm rain.

6 of us were sitting around the tailgate of my truck, when right next to us pulls up a black Hummer with blinking blue lights underneath. It's a high-end "situational" rental car that is completely out of place here, on this beach in Hawaii. It's an LA ride that looks like the UFO it was apparently dropped from.

Out of the car comes a 30-something markety/dotcom guy. Thick glasses, tall and in shape. He's from LA - as am I - and we can smell it on each other. He tips his head back: "SUP".

We wave as he reaches back in his car and flips on, full volume, one of the worst remixes of one of the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs there is. He opens the door wide - the one that faces us. He then goes to the back door and does the same... and then turns it up with a remote control in his pocket. All... the way... UP.

My chest thumps as the bass booms from inside. Purple beat-lights glow with the pulse of this horrible song as the trees ring with the echo of cheesy synth loops.

He's 20 feet away from us. There are no other cars on this half-mile stretch of beach. He's got this song on a loop so it plays... continually.

As opposed to Garrett's girlfriend, we didn't stand for it long. My buddy's wife casually went over and asked them to shut the doors facing us and to ... maybe open the doors facing them (no, really). They did, but not without giving stink eye.


At lunch 3 months ago I sat at a table with a friend from out of town and a couple proceeded to get into a fight next to us. The lady stood up to storm away but thought of something clever so turned around just on the other side of us and, snappily, and let him have it. A lovely insult about his new car, flying right over the top of our heads and into his anger-laden face.

He fought back, she stayed put. We're square in the middle. I sat back and just listened - turning my head as if at an emotional tennis match between the two. The guy looked at me as if to say "bug off", I shrugged with my hands in the air ("where should I go?")... and they went outside... glaring back at me on the way.


So many people are absolutely, stunningly unaware about the little bubble that surrounds them, defined by their thoughts, emotions and words. An interesting (and at the same time scary) thing is that groups of us share these things together - and our bubbles grow as we join into a group.

We walk around like pachinko balls ... bouncing our bubbles off someone else's. They either repel, or like bubbles, can join and grow larger. You can manage this process.

In a room full of other people, you have to manage that bubble of yours quite methodically - especially when you're with a group of friends having what you think is a private conversation. It almost never is.

That person sitting next to you on the bus/train/plane speaking really loudly into their cellphone? The new parents involving the entire restaurant in the little game they're playing with little Dylan? Or maybe the person in the front of the line who just now thought about looking at the menu and deciding what to eat...

Awareness. A Good Thing.

Whatever you're saying, thinking, emoting - all of it is shared with the people around you to some degree - even if they can't directly hear you. We're a sensitive animal and have senses built into us forged by millions of years of survival, intellect, and cunning. To pretend that words alone define meaning is complete folly.

Joking with your friend in a room full of diverse people isn't necessarily harmful, until you become blind to your own context as each of the people in the above stories were. Sometimes it doesn't matter. Other times it does.

You might be sitting next to someone who's sitting on an emotional grenade. That clever little joke you just made? It could be about guns, politics, gay marriage... or dongles. Well it might set that grenade off.

Call it professionalism, politeness, or just Old Fashioned Decency - it's why these things exist: so we can get along and avoid atomic swarm tendencies.

Until another person welcomes you into their context - no - you're not free (socially speaking) to do as you please without consequence. As much as you might feel you're protected by law to walk naked down the street singing that horrid Yeah Yeah Yeahs remix - your actions have an effect (and consequence) with others.

The same goes for being upset. Be aware of yourself and just how angry you've become. Think about why, and remember you're in public, around strangers. Think about your actions carefully in the way that the people in the story above did not.

This doesn't simply sit along gender lines (saying There are Ladies Present is a bit off the mark to me - the issue could as well have been racial or religious). I prefer to think there are other people present.

The only way to truly avoid the hell that can be other people is to understand the power of your own presence. Believe that you do have an effect on others. Just make it a positive one always.