How to Not Let Bullies Get What They Want
The Enlightening Incident
This is what happened to make me realise I could become bully-proof.
As we whizzed past that signpost for Slough Industrial Estate showing a lorry, the one I’m sure they used in the title credits for The Office, the traffic seemed to be thinning out. I checked my rear-view mirror to overtake a cautious Peugeot going 65 miles per hour.
Just as Beth started recounting a story about her hair-dresser’s latest beau, the Ford Mondeo behind me started beeping and flashing its lights which gave me a start. My heart started beating fast as I yanked the steering wheel to take me back into the middle lane.
The Mondeo cut in close in front of me and I saw its red tail lights (“…heading for Spain oo-oo-oo” as Elton John sung) flare up and pushed my brake pedal in reflex response. I saw a middle finger gesture silhouetted under the rear view mirror, obviously for my benefit. What a complete…(no I won’t use that word).
The slow lane had a steady stream of heavy goods vehicles and lorries all going 56 miles per hour. A white car barked at my back bumper like a mastiff. What now? I can’t let them pass and the fast lane is clear for them to overtake. I ease my foot down onto the brake pedal. No wonder my brake pads wear down so quickly. The female passenger in the white Mastiff looked as if she was on the Saw Ride at Thorpe Park, not in private transportation. Maybe she had just told her husband who he was partnering at the bridge Conservative party fundraiser that evening.
Beth started telling me about her Buddhist meetings. She is a ‘namyohorengekyo’ Buddhist, named after their favourite chant which is Sanskrit for something like: “I devote myself to the Mystic Law of Cause & Effect thru sound & vibration,” but the English translation somewhat loses its sound and vibration.
She started to teach me the chant as we passed Oxford and I found I had forgotten about Mastiff Man and his white knuckle ride wife behind me. I glanced into my rear view mirror and they had gone. I thought people said things don’t go away if you ignore them? The opposite, I was learning, was true with bullies of any sort.
I found my way onto the M5 while chanting, ‘nawe-ho-renge-henge’ and wondered what mystic law I was conjuring up – appropriately, since we were heading towards Glastonbury. I had hogged the middle lane of the M4 since we had joined it in London. Is ‘tailgating’ or, as the insurance industry calls it, ‘following too closely’ a characteristic of people who commute into London from within a 20 mile radius?
As we passed the turn off to the Cheddar Gorge, ‘chevrons’ (which look like: >) appeared in the road to tell drivers to keep two chevrons apart. This seems to work as a gentle reminder in the way that ‘let people off the train first’ reminds people not to clog up the doorways on the London underground. I spoke too soon. A red Fiat shot up behind me as if I were towing it by a very strong chord. It resembled a Tonka car operated by the invisible arm of a kid making a loud engine roar noise.
Beth said, ‘come on: Namyohorengekyo,’ and I joined in with a slightly different order of letters. Buddha didn’t seem too fussy about foreigners’ pronunciation of Sanskrit, as the Fiat overtook after contemplating the finer qualities of French back bumper design displayed on the back of my car for a few seconds and roared away ahead in the fast lane.
What the Fiat did next put the final touches to my ‘ignore them and they’ll stop bullying you’ theory. The Tonka Fiat decided to menace a weary articulated lorry in the slow lane. Beth and I watched while chanting as Tonka Fiat swayed behind the lorry with its headlights flashing on the lorry’s rear. Then, sounding like a dragon awakening in its lair, the lorry emitted a deep desolate moan from its horn and its brake lights flashed an angry red. It was like watching a bumble bee bating a bear.
I could hear David Attenborough’s voice in my mind giving commentary, “as the bear readjusts his eyes to sunlight to hunt salmon from a nearby stream after months of hibernation, to quench his rumbling stomach, an excited bumble bee alerts him to the start of spring.”
Coming back from that trip with Beth in my car, we chanted up all the way from Glastonbury up the A39, onto the M5, the M4, round the North Circular and down the A5 into Cricklewood, North London, without me noticing a single car filling my rear view mirror, desperate for attention. It was then that I learnt that if I don’t react to people following too closely in the car behind, they go off to find someone else to antagonise and keep going until they provoke someone into a reaction.
Bullies want a reaction. This experienced showed it wasn’t about me, my back bumper, the age or colour of my car, the Dogs Trust sticker in the window, the fact I’m a woman driver or even because I was hogging the middle lane. If you don’t seem bothered they pretty soon go off and find someone else who they can manipulate like Pinocchio.
This is what makes the ‘Lauren’ character sketch by Katherine Tate so funny, for me, as Lauren is saying ‘am I bovvered?’ while looking so mightily bothered that she can’t stop going on about it.
Without compromising your safety – I don’t want to be held responsible – why not observe this behaviour response mechanism for yourself next time you are out on the road?