Who Do You See?

On some mornings I go to the post office for my job. It is less than two blocks away and I walk; rain, shine, hot, cold. It’s what you do when your family has one car and you don’t drive to work. I usually get there a couple of minutes before the post office opens.

There are ten people who I would consider regulars at eight in the morning at the post office. They are: Six men. Four women. We all get our mail and go about our business. On the average day, these ten people spend less than five minutes around each other; most of the time, maybe two minutes, tops. 

DiversityI could leave it at six men and four women and it wouldn’t matter to you or really anyone else. But I’m not going to do that. Here is a breakdown of those regulars: three white men, three black men, one white woman, one Asian woman, two black women. No, race doesn’t matter, nor does their gender, but I’m going to try and make a point here. Now you know a little bit about the ten people who show up at the post office at the same time every morning. 

Let’s take it a step further. One of the white men is an older gentleman at almost seventy. He is former military and his voice is monotone. He always wears a VFW hat and he always says ‘good morning,’ and ‘have a great day.’ Another white man is probably around sixty, maybe a tad older and always parks his car in the wrong direction. His hair is jet black (probably dyed) and slicked back with hair gel. He is thin and tall and his shoes always clop hard against the tiled floor of the post office. He rarely speaks. The third white guy, well, that would be me. I guess I am middle-aged now at just under fifty.

The Asian woman is thin and short and wears long skirts and black boots. Occasionally, she wears a pair of black pleated slacks. Her hair is long and black and she is probably a little younger than I am. She is pretty when she smiles, plain when she doesn’t. 

One of the black women drives a white van and is nearing sixty. She has had shoulder surgery and heel surgery within the last year. She always says ‘God bless,’ and she always brings a little hand cart when she comes in. The other black woman is young and pretty and seems to be put together (as in her attitude and how she carries herself). She always wears red lipstick and her eyes are big and brown—one of her best features. She is polite. She also knows she is attractive, but she doesn’t flaunt it. 

The lone white woman is probably my age, maybe a tad younger. She is tall, has brown hair and frowns as if she probably wishes she were a little trimmer. She doesn’t smile often, but just in the last few weeks she has started saying ‘good morning’ to everyone.

One of the black men is slightly built and soft spoken. He is a Christian who always shakes my hand when we cross paths. The second black man works for the Supreme Court and drives a black SUV. He wears a gun on one hip and looks like he could have played defensive end for the Chicago Bears at one time. He always checks out the pretty black lady when she comes in. The last of the group is a black man in his late sixties who works part time in the building attached to the post office. He wears a blue uniform shirt and dark pants every day. He is missing most of his teeth and some folks might say his elevator doesn’t quite go all the way to the top. He always says ‘hey,’ and he laughs a lot. 

Does any of that really matter? Probably not to most people, because, let’s be honest, most people don’t care. Here’s a few questions for you: when you look at someone you don’t know, what do you see? Do you see the color of the person’s skin? The gender? Is your first impression based on the person’s appearance? Here’s an even bigger question: do you take the time to actually see the person? Not their skin color or their gender or the clothes they wear. Do you actually see their faces? Do you actually take the time to see the up or down turn of the lips? Do you see the eyes, if they dazzle or have been dulled by life’s burdens?

Do you see people. 

ALONE.jpgOne of the issues I feel we, as human beings, have, is we don’t see people outside of our own little world. Sure, we see someone, but we don’t take a second or two to consider that the person you see is someone’s child, maybe a brother or sister, mom or dad. That person has feelings and hopes and dreams. That person may be going through something terrible right then. That person may be thinking of someone he or she loves. That person might be just trying to get through a crappy day and all they want is to be home so they can rest. 

One thing I know is this: you can make or break someone’s day. How? Well, saying ‘hello,’ and giving someone a smile. That’s not obligating you to carry on a conversation, but showing someone that you see that person, that that person is not invisible, and so many of us feel invisible, like no one cares. 

You can break a person’s day by ignoring them if they say ‘hey,’ and smile at you, or by saying something bad about them (whether you know them or not). A mean word goes further than a good word. Negativity always overrides positivity. And yeah, it is easier to break someone down than to build someone up. 

[[Side Note: I know the world is a bad place these days and strangers can be dangerous. I’m not saying engage in conversations with strangers. I’m saying, don’t be mean. Don’t be rude. Don’t give a stranger a ride, either, but you can be a good person, a good samaritan, so to speak, by just being nice. End Side Note]]

If you think I am wrong about making and breaking someone’s day, then let me ask you two questions. You can feel free to answer them or not. Have you ever been in a great mood and someone did or said something negative that ruined your entire day? On the flip side, have you been sad or down or in a bad mood and someone did something or said something that cheered you up and brightened your day? 

YOU have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. All you have to do is actually see them. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, sexual preference your they are—what matters is do you see them? I think—thinking here!—that if we, as human beings, would take the time to actually see others for what they are (other human beings), then maybe we’ll be slower to react negatively or say something derogatory or just be rude. Maybe, just maybe, the world can be a kinder place … if we would all just see each other.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

The Nature of the Beast…

I want to touch on something that I never thought I would touch on, but since it was brought up to me recently (oh, I don’t know, maybe as recently as this morning), I think it’s something that needs to be thought about. The question was simple:

Why is it that folks freak out anytime a woman in a story is beaten or killed, but when it’s a man…no one really cares?

That’s a good question. Can anyone answer that objectively?

I thought about it for a few minutes before responding.

I’ts reality. Bottom line. Reality hurts, especially when it is women and children.

The truth is it’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s wrong. A life is a life, no matter race, sex, sexual orientation or age. All life should be honored and respected.

Is a man being brutally beaten any different than a woman? Honestly, yes. Why? Before I answer this, let me preface anything else that I write here. This is solely my opinion on the matter. What I say may anger some women’s rights advocates. If so, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some child rights advocates. Again, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some men’s rights… oh, wait, there are no real men’s rights advocates. I find that, in and of itself, interesting. If you find what I am about to write controversial… well, it is what it is. I don’t believe it is, but I have been known to be wrong.

So, why do folks take offense when a woman is beaten (or a child for that matter) in fiction, but not really bat an eye when a man has the same things done to them?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties and in the south, I was taught that you don’t raise a hand to a woman. Not everyone was taught this values. In all honestly, not many kids are taught these values. But, for me, striking a woman isn’t an option… unless they are trying to hurt you. Then, you must protect yourself. However, there is protecting yourself and there is the use of excessive force. Yeah, we hear that term when referring to police, but all too often men use excessive force on women and children to either show their superiority or to discipline them. Some men are obsessive and controlling. They are dangerous to women and children and even other men they deem weaker to them. We see this all the time when we read the papers or turn on any news channel.

Give those same men alcohol or let them have a bad day and that frustration tends to be taken out on… you guessed it, the women and the children.

Like I said, we see this all the time in reality. Why put it in our fiction? Because it’s real and as writers we have a responsibility to the readers to make our characters and their situations as believable as possible. But, let’s do it with some tact, okay? We don’t have to go into all the gory details. The implied deeds are often so much worse on the imagination than the shown deeds.

Wait, I just mentioned a man beating a woman or child. It happens in real life and you better believe we get up in arms about it. Rightfully so. I’ve been in more than a couple of fights with big bad bully men in my days, mostly because they were either hurting a woman or someone weaker than them. I put another man in the hospital because he beat up a kid. No, I don’t put up with it in real life. You want to anger me? Hurt a woman. Hurt a child.

In fiction, if I’m going to tell the truth about life, then life has to be depicted… truthfully. If that means there is a woman who gets beaten by an unruly boyfriend because he’s a drunk prick, then so be it. If that means a kid suffers at the hand of his father (or mother as we’ve seen in real life) then I write it. Again, I don’t write the full-blown details unless I absolutely have to.

There’s a scene in an unpublished novel I wrote about six years or so ago. In it a teenager dies brutally at the hands of other kids in the neighborhood. When I was done with the scene I felt sick to my stomach. It was–and may still be–the most brutal thing I have ever written. I almost deleted the entire book after writing it. After going back and reading it, I realized it was the only way that I could have written the scene—violently enough to make a reader cringe, but also give the character enough reason to come back as a ghost later on and do all the damage he does in the book. Any other way and the impact would have been lost on the reader.

That scene was a bunch of boys killing another boy, one clearly weaker than them. Sound familiar? The dominant member of the species killing off the less dominant one. Kind of like a pecking order. I’m not condoning it, just saying this is the way life is.

If you’ve read anything by Jack Ketchum then you are familiar with someone who writes some very disturbing and often brutal stories. In his book, The Lost, Ketchum’s main character kills two women because he believes them to be lesbians. He doesn’t kill them because they are women, but because he thinks they are gay women. That ratchets things up a notch. They’re not just women, but lesbians. That makes it worse.

Why?

Why does that make it worse? Does being a lesbian make them any weaker than being straight? I would think not. However, this takes the murders more into the realm of hate crimes, which is viewed, by and large, as worse than someone killing a straight woman. Murder is murder no matter how you slice it. The black and white of the matter is that there really is no difference between killing a man or a woman or someone who is white, black or Asian. Murder is murder. Brutality is brutality, regardless of who it is done to.

The truth is the strong prey on the weak and only when the weak fight back does the strong back down.

Okay, enough on that. Let me see if I can get to the point now. Men are viewed as the dominant sex. Biblically, men are supposed to protect the women and the children and the women and the children are to submit to man. Don’t throw the rotten tomatoes just yet. However, men are supposed to be nurturing and slow to anger the women and the children. It’s a two way street. Sure, men can be the dominant ones in most relationships, but they are also supposed to be the protective ones.

This could very well play into the psyche of many people, depending on how they were raised. Maybe that’s where some of this comes from. Men are supposed to be dominant andprotective. If they are not protecting then they are hurting. And no man should hurt a woman or a child… or a weaker person. As I told that fellow I put in the hospital all those years ago, ‘Come pick on someone who can fight back.’

Back to the original question and I’m going to switch it around a little:

Why don’t people get as upset about men getting beaten and killed as they do women and children?

All life should be treated equally. If a man gets stabbed 47 times it should be treated with the same disgust and sadness as if it were a woman being stabbed 47 times. There should be no difference.

However, a child is considered helpless and the hurting of children strikes a nerve with most people. And it should. If it doesn’t then I venture to say something is wrong with people these days. The thought of a child being hurt by an adult makes me hurt on the inside. It angers me and I want to just break that person over my knee. I may not be a big guy, but I was raised in the south in a little section of South Carolina known to the locals as Broadacres. I was a Broadacres boy growing up and if you couldn’t fight, you got your butt kicked on a regular basis. So, let me hear about someone hurting a child…

I think—keyword here, think—that part of the reason people freak out when a woman or child is hurt or killed in a story is that we see this stuff all the time, as I mentioned before, in the news, on television, on the computer feeds. Readers want to escape reality and reading about a man hurting a woman or child or, maybe not even a man doing it, but any type of event where a woman or child gets hurt is just putting them right back into the real world. I understand that. I get that. I respect that.

But (yes, there is always a but) as a writer, I want to put you into my world. I want you to feel what my characters are feeling. I want you to experience their pain, sorrow, happiness, triumphs and revenge. I can’t do that if I don’t bring the reality into the story. It’s the nature of the beast that we call writing.

Still, in real life, a man’s life is viewed somewhat less than a woman’s or a child’s. I find that somewhat sad. Maybe it’s the helplessness we attribute to women and children that polarizes their deaths more so than a man’s. Maybe it’s the way we were raised. Maybe it’s that sense of taboo, that feeling that killing a man is one thing but hurting or killing a woman or a child is crossing the line. That last one I don’t understand. All life should be treated the same. Man. Woman. Child. The elderly. Black. White. Tanned. Straight. Gay. And, in my opinion, the unborn.

I think I may have raised more questions than answers, but I tried to be objective, tried to have an unbiased eye on this. I’m not sure I succeeded.

If you’re willing, feel free to discuss the question. Give your opinions (thoughtful opinions) on the subject. Help me answer my friend’s question. I think it’s one that begs to be discussed and, hopefully, answered.

As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.

Until we meet again…