Have you ever been in a public place, having a pretty good time while minding your own business, and the peace was shattered by a couple people, or maybe an entire group, breaking into a boisterous argument? Did you ever wonder why they didn’t keep it private?
I have come to the conclusion that there are actually times when keeping arguments in the public eye serves a purpose—sometimes a protective one.
There is at least one valid reason for being very public with arguments, and I was recently exposed to that scenario. I was walking out of a steakhouse in the middle of the afternoon and a woman zipped past me. A couple minutes later I realized she was being followed by the man she had apparently gone in with. Let’s call them Hannah and Fred.
Hannah kept Fred in her sights at all times, would not turn her back on him, and—notably—she would not go indoors with him. (It was maybe 80 degrees outside and sunny, so no danger from the weather.) As I walked into a store, they were facing each other down, probably eight feet apart. I overheard Hannah’s “No way am I going to get in that truck with you. You’re crazy!”
When I came out a few minutes later, they were still arguing. Their expressions showed that not much had changed, though Fred was apparently beginning to realize that something had to shift or Hannah was going nowhere with him. By the time I started to drive away, they were actually walking side by side. They looked none too happy but at least he appeared to have calmed down enough that she probably felt safe to get into his truck.
Safety: That is a reason some fights are kept public instead of private. It would likely not be recommended by Miss Manners, but it does take priority over courtesy. There can be a benefit to staying highly visible.
When I was a child, one of the first safety rules I learned was “Do not get into a car with a stranger.” I recall once walking to school in the rain, and a sweet-looking elderly couple offered me a ride, to which I of course said “No, thank you.” These people were probably exactly the dear hearts they appeared to be, but it had been ingrained in me to not put myself into such a vulnerable position.
Once we grow up and start developing relationships with other adults, we sometimes forget to protect ourselves in that same way. They are not strangers, we think, and we then hop into the car with someone who is familiar but may not be trustworthy. And of course sometimes the greatest danger comes from the very person we have come to love, who has become our most intimate partner before we see the dangerous side of him or her.
Safety planning can be very involved. Part of it comes from observing and knowing what to expect of that person we have come to fear. Hannah knew, do not get into a vehicle with Fred while he is still hot under the collar. Once he has calmed down, it may be okay.
Hannah has also realized, it is far better to be publicly embarrassed than it is to risk being in a moving vehicle with Angry Fred, and to be out of public view and therefore have no chance that anyone can intervene in her behalf.
At least that is my best guess; I haven’t confirmed this with Hannah.
Witnesses can be a very good thing.