What is a “Karen”?
First, I would like to express my sympathies for anyone whose name is Karen and feels upset by this trend. Really, calling someone a “Karen” doesn’t have much to do with the name itself as much as it has to do with how the name has been used in recent history. I did some diving, and discovered the origin of calling someone a “Karen” came from a Reddit meme and it is referring to middle-aged women who are “demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary”. It also seems as though many female characters in movies fitting this description have been named Karen.
The term has branched out a bit as I have seen men being referred to as a male “Karens”. It seems as though the term is now referring to anyone who is unreasonably uptight about any situation that is not harmful to others. It is also often directed at people who approach others in an angry or condescending manner instead of an attitude more conducive to coming to an agreement. “Karens” can be strangers or even people you know.
I originally got the idea for this blog post a couple of weeks ago when one of my best friends, Heather, and I were accosted by a “Karen” while returning to our car after a long walk. I didn’t see her right away, but Heather later told me the woman had been watching the car and seemed to be waiting for us to return.
We were almost past the apartment complex when Heather slowed the car down and asked me “what is up with that lady?” The woman looked annoyed, and her gestures gave me the impression she thought we were somehow being ridiculous. Most people probably would have driven away. The woman was on the second floor of the apartment complex, and we hadn’t done anything to harm her or her property. But, Heather being who she is and me being who I am, we stopped to chat.
I forget exactly what Heather said, but she asked the woman a question inviting her to air out her grievances and let us know exactly what was bothering her. At this point, neither of us knew what she was angrily motioning about behind her sliding glass door.
“Do you live here?” The woman asked, her tone angry and accusatory. She knew we, in fact, did not live at that apartment complex.
“I used to.” My friend responded honestly. She had lived at this complex a few years back, and that is how she knew about the nature trail. Many people parked in this area so they could have quick access to the trail. We were still confused about the woman’s attitude.
The woman, or “Karen”, proceeded to inform us that we were not allowed to park there and that we were trespassing on “private property”. While the woman grew increasingly hostile in her tone and words, my friend and I remained civil and calm. We pointed out politely that we were not taking any parking spots away from her. We had parked at the very last parking spot in front of the apartment building, and there were no other cars parked there leaving about 15 empty spots available. The woman was still upset that we were parked there despite the fact that we were not taking anything away from her or negatively impacting her day in any way.
We asked the woman a few times why we were upsetting her by parking there, and she could only respond with “this is private property”. It seemed as though the woman had no other reason to be upset other than the fact that technically we were parking in an apartment complex where we did not pay rent. Sure, it was private property. But, as a renter, it was not her property to be upset about. She saw someone breaking a rule and thought it was her job to be the enforcer. At least, that’s how it looked from our perspective.
At this point, Heather and I saw the situation for what it is. We are both teachers, and we are used to people being upset over small matters and we are also used to people not always being self-aware of their emotions or the reasons they are upset. Granted, the people we are used to acting this way are young students with developing minds and not middle-aged women.
I then asked the woman if she was bored. To me, she must have been awfully bored to use a large portion of her day standing by her balcony window spying on who was parking in front of her apartment building. I expected this would make her more angry. It did. She repeated herself about us parking on private property. My friend let the woman know that we felt sad for her, and we suggested she take up a hobby to better utilize her time. We then ignored anything else she had to say and returned to the car ready to debrief on what just happened.
We had just been yelled at for parking in an empty parking lot at an apartment complex. Sure, we were not renters and we were not entitled to park there. But, from experience in living there before, Heather knew that the managers did not mind people parking there to walk. So, why did this woman view the situation as threatening enough to cause such a scene? What about the situation was worth her reaching a boiling point?
Maybe it is because we are teachers or perhaps it is just because we like to discuss these types of things, but Heather and I chatted on the way home about what the woman could have said differently to help us understand her point of view. There were also things we could have done better in that situation. We could have simply kept driving. We could have allowed her to air out her grievances, apologize even though we felt we were not wrong, and then drove away. The possibilities are endless.
How to Avoid Being A Karen:
This section is for those who believe they may be falling under the “Karen” category when approaching others with concerns or annoyances. Here are my tips on how to effectively express your concerns to others without being labelled as a “Karen”.
Is it hurting anyone?
This is possibly the toughest tip to follow, because it requires thinking before acting. But, is it really that hard? We expect children to ask themselves “is it hurting anyone?” before they go tattle on their peers. I think it is acceptable to expect adults to do the same before they speak out.
Sometimes, when something is angering or annoying us, it is difficult to pause and plan out how to approach the situation. But, it is important for you to ask yourself this question before you jump in and start barking at people. Are they hurting anyone? Or, are they just annoying you? If they are hurting someone then, by all means, proceed. But, do so in a way that will help them see your side of things (see the “Check Yourself” section below).
Now, you can still address them even if they are just being a nuisance. But, you may want to think through how you address the situation to ensure you are heard. And, if they end up not being receptive, at least you can leave the situation with the peace of mind that you were calm and civil.
What are you hoping to get out of the situation? If you’re genuinely hoping for someone to change their behavior, I would recommend approaching them in a calm and gentle manner. Are you speaking in a way that will encourage people to understand your point of view? Is your tone appropriate for the situation?
If the people are strangers, try introducing yourself before you launch into what is bothering you. Then, once you have established who you are, use an “I feel” statement to express the change you would like to see. After you have stated how you feel, this would be a good time to make a reasonable request.
“Good evening. My name is ______, and I noticed you parked here and went on a walk on the trail. I understand you were not intending to harm anything, but it makes me feel unsafe when strangers park in front of my building. Would you mind parking up the street next time or in front of another building?”
Expressing your wishes in this way will help people sympathize with your concerns rather than labeling you as an angry and unreasonable person. You are more likely to get what you are hoping for, and you won’t leave feeling like the villain.
If you find yourself overreacting to minor situations or inconveniences caused by others you may want to do some reflecting. Why do you feel the need to approach people in an aggressive way? Is there a reason you believe it is your job to police others? Could your energy be best used elsewhere?
It is never too late for some self-reflection! There is nothing wrong with politely expressing your concerns. If you are feeling as though your sour mood cannot be satisfied by nicely talking it out, though, it is possible you need to reconsider your motives in the conversation.
Do you have any “Karen” stories to share? Or, do you feel as though you were once wrongfully called a “Karen”? Any tips to be more effective when having difficult conversations?