Conflict Management Media: Episode #17 – “The Coffee Confrontation”


Commentary by Erik Kondo

This video confrontation is very useful for illustrating a number of points.

There is a systemic problem of people illegally parking in Accessible Parking Spaces. This problem is the result of a certain segment of drivers who have an underlying lack of respect for people with disabilities. This lack of respect translates into parking violations. While the majority of drivers don’t engage in this behavior, throughout the world, there are a certain percentage of drivers that commit this violation.

When some women speak of a “Rape Culture”, they are talking about an underlying societal lack of respect for women that they feel leads to sexual harassment and violations. While the majority of people don’t commit these violations, throughout the world there is a certain percentage of the population that does.

In both cases, increasing underlying respect for people with disabilities and women will reduce the number of both types of violations. The problem is that regardless of how much society may try to change the overall culture through education and establishing new “social norms”, there will always be people who are motivated primarily by their own self-interest at the expense of others. These people require the use of enforcement to change and/or limit their behavior.

Where there exists a high level of recurring violations, there is usually systematic ineffective enforcement. When there are minimal repercussions for committing violations regardless of whether they are parking offenses or sexual harassment, violations will occur on a regular basis. A certain segment of society will break the rules as long as they think they can get away with it. Therefore, while these people may never learn underlying societal respect, at the very least, they need to learn to respect the “enforcement of the rules”.

When it comes to _________, violations are haphazardly enforced. Sometimes the punishment is severe, many times it is lenient or non-existent. Much of the time, violators get away with it and become repeat offenders. Violators that are caught red handed, usually claim it was a misunderstanding. As a practical matter, many victims don’t feel that they have much legal recourse. They don’t feel that justice is or will be served.

Does the preceding paragraph refer to parking, sexual harassment, or both types of violations?

When citizens don’t feel that they can depend on the police and legal system to properly enforce violations, certain people tend to take matters into their own hands. They engage in self-enforcement. These actions could be called Bystander Intervention or they could also be called Vigilantism.Sometimes this self-enforcement uses public shaming as a method to punish offenders. Other times, self-enforcement uses violence to create the desired result.

Getting back to the video. Here is my interpretation.

  1. The Woman parked in the Accessible Space because she wanted to. She didn’t care that the space is reserved for People with Disabilities. She figured she could get away with it.
  2. The Man saw the Woman and decided to teach her a lesson. He began the lesson/interaction by recording it. Since she was a female, he wasn’t concerned about provoking a physical confrontation.
  3. The Woman was embarrassed about being caught parking in an Accessible Space. Her response was to empower herself with anger in order to dispel her embarrassment.
  4. She assessed the Man and concluded that she could be both verbally and physically assaultive without receiving a physical response.
  5. Notice, that both the Man and Woman come to the same conclusion here. The Man feels he can confront and video the Woman without fear of a physical response because she is female. The Woman feels she can yell and throw her coffee at the Man without fear of a physical response because she is female.
    It is the paradox of a generally secure society such as the United States and Canada, that many people feel they can act in an aggressive manner and not provoke a physical response. Male or female, these people have learned that explosive verbal outbursts tend to cause other people to back down. On the other hand, in certain parts of the world or in certain subcultures, throwing coffee at someone is likely to result in serious beating or death.
  6. The Woman feels that the Man is violating her right to do as she pleases by questioning and videoing her. Some would call this “a sense of entitlement”. As a result, she engages in angry self-enforcement of her “rights”. In her mind, her behavior is none of his business.
  7. The Man realizes that there is nothing he can realistically do about being verbally and physically assaulted other than to continue recording the Woman. He is stuck in a cognitive loop of repeating the phrase “Do you think you are special?” over and over.
  8. The Man feeling that he has minimal societal recourse for what has transpired, decides to engage in self-enforcement by punishing the Woman through the use of public shaming on the internet.
  9. The people of the internet use this video as an example of whatever agenda they are trying to promote. The video goes viral. The Woman mostly, but the Man too, receive condemnations for their actions. The Man attempts to takedown the video, but it is too late. Pandora’s Box has been opened and can never be closed.
  10. Due to all the public pressure, the police visit the Woman and give her a verbal warning for her actions. Their lenient response confirms that there really is ineffective enforcement of Accessible Parking violations. And that you can get away with throwing your coffee at someone without repercussion.


I see this video of an example of systemic conflict mis-management. These types of incidents are the inenvitable result of ineffective enforcement of Accessible Parking and a general lack of ability of citizens to handle interpersonal conflict.

If societal-enforcement of parking violations was increased, overall violations would decrease and citizens would not feel the need to engage in aggressive self-enforcement. For example, raise the fine to $1,000 per violation and consistently enforce it. Provide citizens with a non-confrontational means to engage in self-enforcement such as simply taking a photograph of the offending parked vehicle and submitting it to the police. Take these measures and the problem would be dramatically reduced.

People need to be educated on more effective ways to manage conflict. In this case, the Man could have simply said “You realize that is an Accessible Space, right?” and left it at that. Beginning an encounter such as this with a video recording is bound to cause an escalation of the situation. On her part, the Woman could have responded with “Yes, I guess I was just being lazy.” Message sent. Message received. Conflict over.

Instead, this incident spun out of control. But it serves as an example of how systemic problems and lack of conflict management skills will lead to regular events of conflict in society.

Here are some news stories on the incident:

Video of woman pitching coffee at man over disabled parking spot at Tim Hortons goes viral

Police warn woman who used disabled parking, as man who made video has regrets

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