Having a barney is what some of us in the UK call an argument, dispute or heated discussion and today I saw one. I actually described it as a barney when I texted someone about it because it wasn’t loud enough for a row, wasn’t physical enough for a fight and didn’t go on long enough to be a bust-up. It seems that using the word barney to describe something like this has been going on since about 1860 but the definitive origins are uncertain. I like using it because there’s something about the letter B that is massively satisfying when used in an insult or anything vaguely rambunctious.
This particular barney started in a very orderly queue outside a supermarket. About three people ahead of me were a woman helping a family member in a wheelchair and a man in front of them. I actually know of this woman – I live in a very small town and we all seem to know each other by sight – and I know that she has had her cough for well over 20 years now. That is obviously not a good thing but I imagine it is why she no longer covers her mouth or attempts to muffle the sound, it has become her default setting and she probably doesn’t even hear herself any more. But I think we can also all understand why the man in front wouldn’t be happy about having to stand in front of her doing that and eventually he turned and said something to her. I’m not 100% sure how he started it, or what triggered his words (I don’t really take much notice of the people around me – you pretty much have to wave your hands in front of my face to get my attention when my mind starts wandering) but it got louder quite quickly. She defended herself by saying she’d had her cough a long time and he, rightly in my view, told her that things are a bit different now and she should consider that before leaving the house and coughing all around a queue full of people no matter how well spaced out they were. Fortunately this situation was very speedily remedied by the supermarket worker who stepped in, asked if she was only intending to use a basket for her shopping (we are asked to get our trolleys before we queue) and as that was the case she could go ahead but only use the self-service checkouts.
The point of this tale is what became obvious to me after it was all over. The man in front was scared. He had started a barney because of his fear. All of that seems reasonable and obvious now, but under different circumstances I would probably not have reached that conclusion. I have become used to assuming the worst possible motives for people’s actions and yes, I have just cause when you look as some of the things people get up to nowadays, but I’m not sure I like what it says about me.
Either I am so disgusted and afraid of why other people do what they do that I cannot relate to them or see them as having any similarities to me, or I am wildly misjudging pretty much everyone.
Those are not Stoic thoughts.
Silver lining from having to queue outside a supermarket for milk – I am going to try to imagine more possible reasons for other people’s motives. Maybe they’re not all selfish, thoughtless and uncaring…maybe some of them are just scared.