Sometimes You Just Have To Walk Away – Life Skills
Many years ago, a mentor of mine gave me a powerful caution. He said, “Sometimes you just have to walk away.” These were words I didn’t want to hear, because at that time in my life, I struggled with letting go. Though I’d heard the song about knowing when to hold em’ and knowing when to fold em’, it never occurred to me that this could be a choice I’d have to make about dealing with people. But the fact is, not all situations are resolvable, and some just aren’t worth it.
I am always ready to give a person the benefit of the doubt, and I take some pride on being resourceful in unexpected and surprising situations. Still, I know from painful experience that sometimes, you just have to let go of how you want it to be, because no matter what you do, it’s not going to turn out that way. I got to revisit this fact of life after an event that happened a few weeks ago.
My wife was backing up the van, and ever-so-lightly brushed the side of a parked vehicle that was sticking about 2 feet out of its parking spot with the side of our vehicle. Like any good citizen, she (and her passenger) immediately jumped out to see if any damage had been done. There was nothing, not even a speck of missing or misplaced paint, not on our car and not on the other car.
Right then, the owner of the vehicle came running out. He was very intense, angry really, that someone had hit his car. That’s understandable. Yet there was no damage. Nothing. And he wouldn’t calm down. In fact, with each passing moment, his intensity grew more, well, intense. A person who worked in an office next door to his came out and looked at both cars, said, “No harm done.” But the guy refused to see it. Damage had been done, he was certain of it. She said, “Let’s call the police.” He said no, and demanded insurance information.
My wife explained to him that if there were damage, she would prefer to pay out of pocket. He was insistent and relentless. “Give me your insurance information.” She thought this was really strange, an idea reinforced when another woman came outside from another business sharing this parking area, got into the conversation saying, “Nope, no damage.”
The guy pressed ahead, crowding in on my wife and acting in an intimidating way. “Give me your insurance information.” He pressed his own name and insurance information into her hand. She gave him her cell phone number. The person whose business was next to his said privately to my wife, “He’s crazy intense about that car. He’s got me so I’m afraid to even park next to him!”
Now you might think that this guy had a gorgeous vehicle which he’d put a lot of care into, and was trying to protect his investment. So before I go any further in this story, let me point out that the guy’s car was an old wreck. *I’ll tell you how I know this shortly.* His car was really old, in terrible shape, covered in nicks, scratches and rust. The inside was as disordered and as messed up as the outside. If he was serious about protecting his car from damage, he sure waited a long time to get involved. In fact, the only place where it didn’t have any damage was where my wife had brushed against it.
My wife offered to call the police, but he refused. She resisted his demands for insurance info, because she didn’t get where he was coming from and was willing to pay out of pocket if there was a problem. Now he threatened, “I’m going to call the cops.” Wow, ironic, as my wife had offered to do that very thing! Her reply was “Good. Please do.” But then he didn’t. He disappeared back into his office, and Not until she’d left, and he’d reparked his car so it was tucked correctly into its parking spot.
My wife is one of the nicest people on earth. She never raises her voice, has a ready smile and a comforting presence. Anyone else would have succumbed to her charm and calmed down. But not this guy. Since she left her name and phone number, she figured it was over when he didn’t come back out, and she drove away. I think she felt intimidated by his anger, but hung in there for 20 minutes of trying to reason with him. It wasn’t possible to reason with him, because, plain and simple, the guy was unreasonable. (Other words come to mind, like irrational and paranoid, but I digress.)
When she did finally give up and came home, she was a bit shaken by the experience. That’s when the guy called my wife and told her that the police would be calling her. He was so intense, and she was so shaken by it, that I decided to get involved and see his car for myself. We jumped on our bicycles for our already-planned afternoon bike ride, but changed our route to go by that parking lot.
When we got there, the guy again came out, brow furrowed, eyes narrowed, head down. I hoped to lighten the mood, and extended my hand in friendly introduction. “Hi. I’m Rick.” He refused my hand and proceeded to lecture me about my wife’s attitude . He asked, nay, demanded, if I understood that she was wrong not to give him our insurance information. I wasn’t going to go there. (On what planet does a husband stand to gain anything by siding with an angry stranger against his wife?) Instead, I listened to him to the best of my ability.
I did my best to persuade him to calm down and assured him that if there was a problem we would take care of it. I told him that we should get a police officer to come and look. He grew more surly and irritable with every passing moment. I tried to make the interaction friendlier. “What do you do, here, anyway?” That really irked him. He snapped, “I don’t think exchanging personal information is appropriate,” and then slammed his mouth shut and refused to tell me anything more. I was shocked at his behavior, because in our town, people are generally remarkable in their friendliness and reasonableness. So I asked him, “Have I done something? Do you think we’re enemies or something?” He turned, went in his shop and closed the door. “The police are on their way, ” he said as the door closed behind him. “I know, I called them too!” I replied to the back of his head as he disappeared inside.
The officer came, looked at the cars, said “I don’t see any evidence that an accident occurred here.” She confided to me that some people use these situations to take advantage, but wouldn’t be more specific. I believe she was inferring that he might be trying to use our insurance to get something else fixed on his car. Whatever. He was nasty, angry, and socially incompetent. There was no dealing with him. Ultimately, we just had to walk away.
But how do you walk away? Some people walk away while blaming the person they’ve just had a bad experience with. Some people walk away trying to figure out how they were at fault. Some people walk away lost in thought, considering alternate scenarios, and how they would deal with each. But it seems to me that none of these are really walking away, but instead taking it away with you. I think that if you’re going to walk away, you need to focus forward on what you’re going to do next.
That’s what we did. First, we encapsulated the experience by laughing with each other about how it had finally happened! We had actually met the WORST person in Ashland! It was an achievement of sorts, and now that we’d tagged and bagged the experience, we were able to laugh about it. And we kept laughing as we rode off on our bikes.
Encapsulation is about putting a boundary around an unpleasant experience. Naming it, framing it, containing it. You can do this by journaling, talking it out, shifting your perspective, putting it behind you. It’s what we do naturally in life. Ever heard the expression, “Some day we’ll look back and laugh at this!” ? That’s encapsulation. And I say, “Why wait?”
One last thing: We called our insurance agent, and he told us “Go ahead and give him your insurance info,” so we did. And sure enough, he then tried to get a structural repair for his clunker car out of our insurance. We don’t know how they dealt with this, and we don’t need to know either. They said they deal with this kind of thing all the time, and that leaving was the best thing we could do.
What do you do when faced with a deterioriating situation with no hope of turning it around? Your comments are always welcome.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.