LEARN HOW TO PARK!!! response


Last week I found a torn piece of  paper tucked under my car’s windshield wipers. The writing was etched deep in the paper. The letters were all capitals and ended with three exclamation marks. It said: “LEARN HOW TO PARK!!!” 

I immediately looked around, almost expecting someone to be watching me. I looked at my car, trying to figure out what the note meant. I was parked on the side of the road in front of my apartment block. I was in line with the curb and pretty straight. Then it hit me. I had left half a car space behind me: I had essentially taken up two parking spots. 

I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I got in the car, somewhat frazzled, and drove off to pick up my pizza. 

As I was driving I tried to recall why I had parked like that. When I parked the car the day before the only free spot was the spot I parked in. I parked as close as possible to the car in front of me. In hindsight I should have reversed to park in line with the No Stopping sign so that the half car space was in front of me. This way, when the other cars moved, I wouldn’t look inconsiderate by taking up two car spaces. 

I probably deserved the note. But that made me even more ashamed and more angry. As I was stewing I had this voice in the back of my head telling me that I shouldn’t let this get to me. I should be emotionally intelligent  about it all. After all, I’ve been reading about regulating emotions and even interviewed experts on the subject: I should know better. 

So what did I do? I wrote a note back, of course (and then I wrote this blog!). Instead of responding in the way you’d expect (“how dare you criticise my parking, blah, blah, blah…”), I wrote the most empathetic and self-aware note I could. I apologised, empathised, owned my mistake and offered restitution. I did all the “right” things. When I got back home, I put this note under my windshield wiper for the other person to find. 

You might be thinking: wow, that’s a mature response. But the truth is that my response was really fuelled by revenge. I wanted the person to read the note and feel bad because of how positively I responded. I wanted to “kill them with kindness”, so to speak. 

As I walked up the stairs to the apartment I was initially proud of how I responded and gave myself a pat on the back. As I gave it more thought I realised how childish it was to respond at all, especially knowing that my intent was to belittle the other person. I ended up running down to collect the note. 

It’s now been a whole week since the incident and even now when I walk past my car I almost expect another note under the wipers. My heart rate goes up and I look over my shoulder expecting someone to be watching me. The person who left the note has probably forgotten about it days ago but still I’m haunted by it. I’ll get over it but it’s taking longer than I’d like (I’m actually quite embarrassed that I’m not over it already). 

This incident has taught me: 

  1. Just because you are frustrated doesn’t mean you have to take it out on someone else. You will be frustrated for a minute but the other person will probably feel it for days or weeks after if you take it out on them. 
  2. You can do the right thing the wrong way. You can be an asshole by taking the high road. Check your intentions. Doing the right thing with a malicious heart is still malicious. 
  3. Develop a thicker skin. Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Learn and move on. 

If you notice a silver Toyota Yaris parked really close to a No Stopping sign, please wave. It’s probably me learning how to park! 

About the author

Divan Gradwell is co-host and producer of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.