The Fighting Trap

Yesterday I witnessed a confrontation that baffled me and all those who saw it. The woman who checked out in front of me at a local pet store seemed rather friendly. She was wearing a lovely floral dress and was very pleasant while purchasing food and chews for her dog. She paid and left. The clerk started to put my items through the scanner when the previous customer came hurrying back in and declaring (in a rather accusatory tone) that the clerk had charged her for 5 cans when she only purchased 4! The young clerk looked a bit shocked and apologised. The customer demanded it be put right immediately. The clerk kindly asked that she be allowed to finish my purchase, and told the woman to bring back a can so she can unscan it. The customer actually looked disappointed and continued to argue! The clerk again asked her to bring back one of the cans, while looking at me apologetically.

After putting my purchases in the boot of our car, I was returning my trolley to its hold and noticed this customer and her husband. She was putting her purchases in the car, but still carrying on about the ‘injustice’ that had just occurred. Her husband had a pained look on his face. I felt for him. There is no way to answer a person is who on an unreasonable warpath – verbal or otherwise.

I was thinking to myself, how small must her world be to react like that? (Of course, there is the possibility that she is mentally unstable – and her husband’s facial expression appeared to confirm that might be the case.) Still, to overreact because someone charged you an extra 2 Euros for a can of dog food you didn’t buy when families in Gaza (or Syria or Ukraine or…) can’t sleep for fear of the bombs, noise, grief and the lack of basic necessities? Then it occurred to me, that maybe, like them, she feels trapped. Maybe her world IS too small. Whether by her own behaviour or other’s or societal expectations, maybe her world has shrunk so much that any small grievance becomes a major occurrence.

What happens when animals are cornered? They fight. They keep fighting until they are released. That customer may be fighting an entrapment that is invisible to the rest of us. She may not even see it herself, but there are other real wars being caused by the same feeling. Palestine is cornered. They know it. Israel probably feels trapped. They may or may not know it, but they do. The Russians in the Ukraine feel trapped. They know it. Trapped people fight. So the question I have is: How do we relieve these peoples of their entrapment fears? Perhaps the whole negotiations element needs to focus on the psychological ramifications of entrapment. People – whether individually or collectively – need to feel like they are moving forward. They need to see the removal of barriers, visible and invisible. This can’t, of course, be done in big chunks because those who are trapped and fighting are still in ‘fighting mode’. No, it needs to be done in small steps. Little by little, the walls need to be removed as respect is rebuilt.

The unreasonable customer would probably need some help seeing where her walls are in order to remove them. The countries warring – especially Israel and Palestine – need to be shown the way out. A small door needs opening very slowly, bit by bit. May the negotiators be blessed with a vision towards that kind of movement and a sense of timing.

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About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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