Face the Rage

How do you powerfully deal with people when they’re acting nuts?

I was on my cell the other day, pacing down a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn side-street on a lovely Tuesday afternoon. As I meandered from one side of the street to the other, I heard a V8 engine growl. A brand-new, black BMW 7-series was barreling straight toward me, doing about 50 MPH.

I was going to teach this wannabe Michael Schumacher a lesson about safe driving, so I stayed in the street and stuck my foot out like I was going to kick his car.

Kicking cars is a thing of mine—one that has resulted in one outright assault and several near-misses. I am not that tough. It’s just that my aversion to combat is often overshadowed by my righteousness.

Anyway, seconds after my air-kick, the dude (and you know it’s a dude), screeches to halt, backs up, stops the car, and starts shouting at me out of his window. I hope he doesn’t have a gun.

“You do not kick my fucking car, motherfucker,” followed by additional words that built on this initial thesis.

He got right in my face. “You do not want to fuck with me. You do not want trouble.”

“You were doing 70 mph and could have hit me,” I replied.

He let off a few more expletives and started to drive away. I took out a pen and paper to write down his license plate number. He stopped again, got out of the car, and got in my face.

“You taking down my license, motherfucker?”

“Yes, I am.”

“You do not want to fuck with me.” He was right. Here was a guy, one I imagined to be of Italian-American ancestry, who had the diction of a high school dropout yet was driving an $80K car and outfitted with the accoutrement suggesting he bought the car (Persol glasses, Rolex, well-fitting jeans). I bet his last name was Gotti or Gambino.

“You do not want to fuck with me,” he reiterated. “What, you jus’ move to this neighborhood, motherfucker? I was born and raised here motherfucker. Get the fuck outta here.”

While I hadn’t “just” moved here, I was indeed relatively new to the neighborhood, and I did not think this was a very nice welcome from a local. And while I believed he was born and raised here, I wondered why he had a Pennsylvania plate (I assumed because insurance is a lot cheaper in PA.  Smart move). I decided to table that question.

He got right in my face. “You do not want to fuck with me. You do not want trouble.”

The Oscar for best portrayal of a tough-guy goes to David Friedlander. As he stood inches away, I didn’t move. I had a relaxed stance, with my chest out. I didn’t move my arms. My unblinking eyes locked on his.

We were both lucky. I was in a very clear state that day. Though I didn’t say it, he was not going to fuck with me. I wasn’t going to let him put me in a bad mood. When he said, ‘You do not want trouble,’ it was an opening. I replied, “You’re right, I don’t want trouble.  So can I make a request?”

“No, motherfucker, you cannot make a fuckin’ request.”

“Can I make a request?” I spoke calmly, flatly.

“Fuck you. Get the fuck out of my neighborhood.” He had moved back toward the driver seat.

“Can I make a request?”

“What? What’s your fucking request, asshole,” he relented.

“Can I ask you to drive slower through this neighborhood? You were driving way too fast and it’s not safe.”


“Thank you.”

“Thank you,” he said sincerely, if slightly confused. He was still riled up, but it was more physiological than emotional. This guy was warming up to me in a big way.

I shook his pinky-ringed hand through his sunroof and he drove off (a bit too fast for my liking, but what could I do?).


I guarantee that most everyone who comes in contact with this guy thinks he’s an angry, scary motherfucker. To them, that’s who he is. And rightfully so. He holds himself as an angry, scary motherfucker. But that’s not who he is. It’s how he acts. It’s his way of operating in the world. A way that got him a fancy car. A way that will give him a heart attack at 50.

I held him in a different place. I held him as a reasonable guy and I didn’t stop holding him there until he showed up as reasonable.

Most of us buy people’s story of themselves. Such-and-such is depressed, angry, spacey, unreliable, etc. We don’t even give them the opportunity to be whole or great. Even though my kicking thing was pretty juvenile, when I found myself in contact with him, I held him to a standard completely different than who he was being in that moment.

Goethe wrote:

If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.

Do you want to transform a relationship? Is someone bothering you? Here are a few suggestions:

Take 100% responsibility for all of your relationships. This might be hard for some of us. You think, “but you don’t know _____.  He/she’s such an asshole.” Think about it this way, there are a lot of assholes in the universe that don’t bother you. Due to proximity, you’ve chosen this one person to be asshole-supreme. It’s not about him or her. He or she is just doing his or her thing. It’s your perception that their thing is wrong that is problematic.

Do not be enrolled by their state. This means not feeding into a negative pattern. Do not respond angrily to anger. Depressed to depression. And so forth.

Do not speak into unreal problems. For example, if someone is feeling hopeless, do not talk about why they should not be hopeless. This is tricky for many of us fixers. The problem is that when we come up with solutions, it affirms there’s a real problem. Keep quiet. Or listen for openings—something he or she says that is not rooted in limitation and brokenness; speak to that alone.

Hold people to their greatness. Look at people free of their limitations—their anger, loneliness, carelessness, etc.—and treat them in accordance with that free state.  This sometimes takes imagination, but it can be done.

Read more on Emotional Intelligence on The Good Life.

Image credit: ~deiby/Flickr

About David Friedlander

David Friedlander is writer, father, husband, athlete, worker and a handful of other things. His writes professionally for the blog LifeEdited and recreationally for his personal blog. A longtime resident of NYC, David now lives in Beacon, NY with wife and son.


  1. Karen Powers says:

    I am in a relationship with a man who has anger and violence issues. When he has expressed these behaviours in the past with other partners he has been ‘kicked to the curb’. I hold him in a place of compassion and we are now in court ordered therapy. What has come out of this is that his father was/is an alcoholic, now sober for many years. But this addiction caused the breakup of his marriage, and created a fearful childhood without help (we are both in our fifties and there was little therapy for boys in the 60’s and stigma attached to that). This is the first time that my partner has been offered a safe and compassionate place to reveal and restructure his life experiences. We are learning to dance through these places and to honor them. Thank you for this article.

  2. Orangenostalgia says:

    It’s really stupid to “teach someone a lesson” like that. For all you knew, he could have been bleeding to death, racing to the hospital. Maybe his wife was in the back in labor. Maybe he was late for something important. Maybe he simply wants to use his freedom to drive his $80K car in a way he can enjoy. Don’t impose your righteousness on others. How he drives is none of your business. If you see a car coming fast, get the **** out of the street, idiot. It shows you as an emotionally unintelligent person who has no respect for the freedom of others. Anyway, I wish I could meet this guy. He’d probably marry me… #GuidetteProblems

  3. Admirable, holding yourself so calmly in such a situation as this. It can be very rattling to be yelled at by a stranger at such close range. It`s a great piece of wisdom, Goethe`s, though one of the toughest to follow.

  4. Peter von Maidenberg says:

    It used to be that you couldn’t call yourself a man until you could let another man tear you a new one. Back then of course, it was legitimate authority figures who were to be submitted to – the coaches and sergeants who had the power to vet young males or consign them to second class masculinity. The days are over when that was a universal, but it could be a skill we need to relearn – how to be calm with angry people. And later, maybe even how to express disciplined anger ourselves.

  5. Dan Glenn says:

    Wow, someone had the audacity to try to run down some motherfucker crossing the street while yacking on his cell phone. Were you in a crosswalk? Did you notice the car speeding your way long before he arrive? Or a you a clueless pedestrian who thinks the world should make way for YOU?

  6. This is how I usually act. I never really thought how other people could apply it. Great article. It also works great when someone you’re working with is stress and you come across as calm and levelheaded. You’ll see their stress level go down.

  7. David Karpel says:

    You showed terrific self control. The Goethe quote is a challenging directive and you lived up to it. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. John Anderson says:

    One of the scariest things on the street is someone who’s calm. Everyone expects people to either respond aggressively or grovel. Another thing that’s scary is someone who is confident when they shouldn’t be. Usually people assume they’re carrying an equalizer, which I’ve done on a few occasions, or know a martial art, which I do.

    I’ve been in a few situations like you’ve described. I’d usually let them yell and curse awhile then tell them very calmly that if they persisted in their activities, I’d kick the crap out of them. I’ve only had to do that one time. There were 7 of them and I was with 2 friends. Both were martial artists with one being the most accomplished fighter in the dojang. They should have brought more guys. You do give me something to think about and I admire your courage. I’m glad things worked out for you.

    The code of the street I grew up with was pack backs a bitch. I’ve changed neighborhood twice. Each of the three neighborhoods I’ve lived in, I’ve had to prove myself. The last two neighborhoods have only taken one incident to let people know not to mess with me. Being non-violent really reduces your chance of being incarcerated and I commend you for that, but it’s hard when people are messing with you and you have to live there. Sometimes they see reason as weakness. Just giving you a heads up.

  9. WOWZA! You definitely need to be applauded – I don’t think I could have faced someone as angry as him and walked away unscathed…

  10. Elizabeth says:

    This made my night. Treat people as they ought to behave, not how they do. It’s hard to stop expecting someone (including myself) to “be themselves” but if I want to expect more, then I should. Give the person a chance to do better. I like that.

  11. “I held him as a reasonable guy and I didn’t stop holding him there until he showed up as reasonable. ”

    Wow. That line hit me pretty powerfully. It looks like you were able to find a middle way between Fight and Flight. Wow again – admiration and respect for you! Those aren’t easy instincts to overcome.

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