I ride the same bus to work every day, and I often see the same people during my commute. One woman in particular is an incredible bully. She’ll elbow her way through everyone to get on earlier (and snag a seat), she’ll leave her bags on an empty seat next to her even during rush hour, so if anyone wants to sit there they have to ask (and then she gives them an evil eye and a lot of sighs, though she will move the bags)–basically, she’s just extremely rude. The other day, the bus got stuck for about 15 minutes because of road construction and she started screaming–top of your lungs screaming–at the bus driver about how this bus route was always terrible and she needed to be at work etc. She even said that she didn’t know why no one else was speaking up, since we “all felt this way.” I’m starting to actually hate this awful woman. Is there anything I can say or do to make her stop?

-Putting the “B” in MBTA


The most important thing you can do is invest in a great pair of headphones and start sitting at whatever the end of the bus she’s not occupying.

The problem with assholes–because she sounds like an asshole to me, not a bully–is that they don’t think of themselves as the asshole. They think they’re being put upon, they think they’re just playing the game smarter to get to the front of the line, they think that when things go wrong, they have every right to lash out at people who don’t deserve it, because “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” (truisms can really justify any kind of behavior you want, tragically).

Sometimes, in specific instances, you can get them to recognize how shitty their behavior is, but even when you know the person well, that’s an iffy prospect. And you don’t know this woman at all–chances are, if you said “why don’t you stop acting like a selfish whining infant” she’d just write you off as, well, the asshole in the situation.

When she starts berating someone else, though, you can and should speak up. Don’t get into a screaming match with her–that won’t help anyone–but do tell her, quietly, “please don’t claim to speak for me, I would never talk to someone like that.”

It’s not aggressive or confrontational (if she tries to make it go that way, refuse to engage, simply saying “that’s all I wanted to say”), but if there’s any decency in her black, bitter soul, it might shame her into seeing her bad behavior–at least in the narrow confines of shrieking at people who are just doing their jobs–for what it is.

That said, even that level of engagement might just redirect the assholery to you.

Which is why I reiterate: good headphones, distant seating.