It wasn’t until the little girl asked me if I were OK that it occurred to me how traumatic the incident was. Had there been bloodshed on my driveway — most likely mine — it would of course have been worse.

Toward the end of an otherwise pleasant Independence Day, I was backing the trailer on which my little skiff sits into my driveway. As this involves a 90-degree turn and my neighbor’s lovely hedges have grown over the line a little bit, I try to be deliberate about it. For drivers who use the quiet little street on which I live as a hot-rodding run, I realize this could be frustrating.

The burly fellow with the handlebar mustache in the jacked-up, late-model black pickup became very agitated in the 90 seconds he had to wait for me to clear the road. I know this because he was red in the face and spitting epithets at me. No need to repeat any of them in a newspaper read by all ages. Suffice it to say they were degrading and provocative. They were what the Supreme Court has called “fighting words,” unprotected by the First Amendment.

Sitting next to him was a woman I am guessing is his long-suffering wife. She urged him to keep moving, but he had a few more things to get off his generously cushioned chest. Did I need him to get out of his truck and set me straight?

This was actually tempting, but being a felon I am leerier than I used to be about putting my toe over the line of the law and I am prohibited from owning, possessing or handling a firearm. Curiously, the angry man had veteran plates. No combat vet I’ve ever met has displayed incivility like this, so I am assuming this is just another case of our secretary of state giving these plates out willy-nilly.

Having to make a snap decision about whether someone is armed, I bet on the side of prudence. And intellectually it all made sense, don’t escalate, just like this man’s poor wife was urging him. I thanked him for making America’s birthday special. It wasn’t a uniformly happy occasion anyway, even if I had — up until now — been having a nice day myself.

With a few more insults and after a bit of gratuitous revving, he was off to brighten someone else’s late afternoon. The man in a pickup behind him apologized on his behalf. And that’s when the little girl asked if I were OK.

Had the man beaten me to a pulp right there, or if I’d lucked out with a good punch to distract him long enough to find a piece of metal, it would have been worse for everyone: him, me and the little girl who had been watching and listening. It could have been the end of something. The visceral emotions that lurk in the hearts of many men were screaming for blood. Fortunately, we didn’t go there.

We have come to a place where the slightest grievance can be cause for violence, and we’ve become accustomed to derision and reactive put-downs as everyday conversation. Yes, we’ve had some terrible role models recently, but we’re beyond the point of tracing it all back to simply that. The inhabitants of the country most of us celebrated today are collectively responsible for how we behave toward one another.

As the former senator and minister John Danforth put it in 2017, our greatest challenge today is to maintain our equanimity in the face of all that is happening. It is also, he said, our greatest responsibility right now.

The little girl reminded me of something else. The night of Trump’s inauguration, I took a client to the ball. As we queued up for security, protestors screamed at us from behind a chain link fence, only feet away, spitting and trying to push down the fence and otherwise intimate violence. A family had brought their young daughter to the ball and she was dressed like a princess, but there, in the face of such hatred, she broke down in tears.

My then-client, a Ukrainian, noticed the look of upset on my face as I took this in. “I’m more used to this kind of thing than you are,” he said with a smirk. Even in early 2017, Ukraine was teetering on the brink of civil war.

I’m not suggesting we’re anywhere near that, though I wrote last week about the very real threat of the extremes in America drifting irrevocably apart. However, if we don’t start climbing our way back to civility, the threat of meaningless violence will continue to hang in the air. And that’s not the way life should be.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.