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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Contents Of Our Character

At first I didn't notice anything different as I pulled my car into a parking spot at the grocery store. The forecast was calling for rain, and the skies were already threatening. I wanted to get what I needed in pretty good time and get out--a daunting task at Marc's, which has a large closeouts section that bogs me down. In it, I can find anything from garden rakes to wall clocks, room-sized rugs to purses. But I was resolute as I grabbed my bags and started towards the door.

Suddenly, I saw the police car. It was pulled up parallel to the front of the store. Its lights weren't flashing or anything, so I figured they were probably grabbing a few things themselves. But as I came closer, I saw the back door open, and an officer had a young woman by the arm. Neither one looked particularly distressed, but it was clear that he was going to put her in the squad car. Another young woman, who looked nearly identical to the first one, was standing there calmly asking, "Do you want me to drop off the car? Do you want--?" and I stopped listening and looking.

That sort of thing bothers me, and I don't like to gawk. It's clearly None Of My Business, and no one needed my help, obviously. It wasn't Entertainment.

I'd like to say that everyone else had the same philosophy, but of course, you all know that's not the case. There was almost a traffic jam of people and their shopping carts trying to come out of the store, caused by the two or three Elderlies with full carts, standing stock-still, watching this unfortunate drama unfold. I had to almost thread myself through a few more just to get through the IN door.

Once I did, however, I was soon stopped in my tracks by a monologue spoken loudly enough for everyone at the front of the store to hear. A woman's voice, speaking conversationally but assertively, said, "Just cut their hand off, that's what I say. If they want to steal, cut off a hand. For a first offense, maybe a finger, but if they do it again, then cut off the whole hand. Maybe then they'd think twice."

Aghast, I turned around and was astonished to see that the speaker was one of my favourite cashiers, a woman about my age, maybe a little younger. She was always so pleasant and kind to me, making sure to pack my groceries so that the bags were light. She was unfailingly chipper and chatty, talking about weekend activities and even inquiring about my health when I hadn't come in for a while. To hear her speak so easily about such brutality was jarring.

This happened a week ago, and I'm still struggling with it. So much is so wrong about it.

With everything in me, I wanted to challenge that cashier. I wanted to ask her if that is truly what she believes, that maiming a young twenty-something woman for what may well be the one mistake of her life is really what she considers to be Justice. I wanted to ask her if she knew that she was advocating for Sharia Law when she invoked these penalties for theft. I wanted to know how she could find such bitterness and hatred in her heart for a stranger, and for someone who had done nothing to her personally. And I wanted to ask her if she had ever stolen anything--anything--in her life; and if not her, what about her kids? What about her friends or co-workers? Did she really want something ugly and primitive to be Justice In America?

But I didn't do that. I didn't confront her then and there. I decided to wait and go through her line, speak to her civilly and calmly, but then she wasn't there. And now I know my chance is gone; I won't go through her line anymore.

I feel lousy. I feel as if I didn't Stand Up For What's Right. Like I let her get away with a big load of crap and spread it around, unchecked.

These days, any little Inch becomes a Mile pretty damn fast. I hope that, by my silence, I didn't help start a superhighway.

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34 comments:

  1. It's so hard to make a decision so quickly when we are shocked like that, so try not to be too hard on yourself. If a friend of yours had been in your position, you would be understanding, so be kind to yourself too. So much casual hate, it is scary. Be the change by being the positive example you had to have been all those years as a teacher, Nance. Sending peace.

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    1. Rose--What a perfect phrase--"casual hate." It is the most apt descriptor of what I am seeing all over the Internet comments sections and in public. Now, with this new administration, some people (his supporters) seem to think that they have license to air out and manifest Hate, Prejudice, and general Incivility under the guise of "getting rid of Political Correctness". It's okay now to just fling around your hatred. After all, he sanctioned it plenty at his rallies. Still does.

      And you're correct about it being scary. That's why I wanted to stand up; we cannot let it become normal or okay.

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  2. What I mean is you should continue to be the positive change you have been; hope that makes sense.

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    1. I know. I understand, and thank you.

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  3. What Rose said. It's true. Sometimes, you are just so surprised in the moment, you can't respond even if your brain can.

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    1. Thanks. It truly was a moment of pure shock.

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  4. Oh, what an awful situation to be in. I can understand how you didn't know what to say/do, because there's no way you'd be expecting such a comment. Is it possible to write a letter/email to the management of the store, naming her, explaining her behavior, and asking if they condone such ideas? Depending on the store's response I realize that you might end up shopping elsewhere after the letter, but at least you'd have made a statement. I dunno what I'd do.

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    1. Ally Bean--It was personally awful. And you know, I didn't even see the person she was pontificating to. I was just so horrified when I looked over to see who it was who was speaking. I don't know if the person was agreeing--or pretending to agree--with her.

      I am considering your idea of writing the letter/email. It's still upsetting me, and it may be what I need to do. Thanks.

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  5. Stop beating yourself up. You could not have influenced this person no matter what you might have said. And the people who listen to her already have the same mindset. So nothing good would have come from speaking up, and you did nothing wrong. Your silence did not add an inch of pavement the superhighway of stupid prejudice and lack of compassion. That superhighway has been built, and is traveled much more frequently now that the POTUS and his minions have given their blessings. I'm sure I sound rather like a fatalist but I honestly do not believe there is anything to change people like this. And most of them call themselves "Christian."

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    1. A Milwaukee friend sent me a photograph of folks lined up to buy their Paczkis. I immediately thought of you. Happy Paczki Day!

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    2. NCmountainwoman--Thanks! The big new flavour of paczki this year at Rudy's Strudels was Cannoli! They sold out pretty darn quickly.

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    3. NCmountainwoman--Thank you very much. I have decided to make sure to be kinder--to go out of my way to do so--to make her amends, to balance out her hate. I'm still saddened by the whole scenario, to be sure, but to a large extent, I agree with you. If she has such a bitter, ugly philosophy, I was unlikely to make any inroads to compassion. My mission has to lie elsewhere.

      I hope things are getting better on top of your mountain. I miss you over at your space.

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  6. Oh Wow! What a story...too bad it's not just bad fiction. I think what Rose said about "casual hate" is so true these days. It is everywhere. I believe it was always there, but was often disguised...now it's out in the open for anyone/everyone to see/hear/witness. It is sad. And, what NCmountainwoman said as well: the superhighway has already been built...and is getting more use these days.

    Don't beat yourself up...it's a tough situation to be in. Sorry you had to witness it.

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    1. Vera--Thank you. I know the Hate is there, always there, but to be confronted with it is never easy. And from someone who I thought was more like me...I guess I'm constantly amazed at how poor of a judge of character I really am!

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  7. I could be reading too much into this, but my experience lately, both personal and from reports in the news, is that the current administration, while not necessary advocating this type of behavior, has certainly fomented an atmosphere of intolerance and hate, and seems to have been a major enabler of what is becoming an ever-growing series of hate crimes. You have to think that SCROTUS is giving his tacit approval of such things when, as Tweeter-in-Chief, he makes no statements whatsoever on hate crimes showing up in the news lately.

    I agree with MCmountainwoman: there is nothing you could have done at the moment that happened without possibly making it worse, since those listening to the horrible cashier likely agreed with her. Boycotting her checkout line, if you choose to keep going to this supermarket, is about all you can do. Unless you want to boycott the supermarket itself, in which case I rather like Ally Bean’s suggestion of writing a letter to the store management explaining why you will never shop there again. Of course, that would not really cure the problem; just something to make you feel better. It’s a sticky wicket any way you look at it.

    Sometimes, we just have to bite the bullet until a better opportunity comes along to defend someone. I had a similar heart-wrenching experience last Friday in terms of being frustrated at not being able to help someone: A USPS truck pulling out of our condo complex smashed into an oncoming car. The car belonged to a hispanic family. The driver was undocumented, although his wife was a U.S. citizen. The car was totalled. Two young children in the car suffered minor injuries and were crying and terrified. Mr. O. and another neighbor went after the driver of the mail truck who zipped across the road and parked at the back of an apartment complex so as to hide his vehicle. The mail carrier did not call the police and disappeared into someone’s apartment before any other questions could be asked. Mr. O. took pictures of his truck. We did not know at first that the driver of the car that got totalled did not have official residence, and kept asking why the police did not show up, since he told people he had called them. Finally, after speaking to them in Spanish, Mr. O. and I determined that he was lying and had not called the police due to the current raids on illegal immigrants. He was petrified of being deported and leaving his wife and daughters to fend for themselves. We helped him change the tire on the car so he and his family could limp away from the scene undetected. Like you, we felt furious, but helpless in terms of the circumstances.

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    1. Ortizzle--I'm so glad that you and Mr. O. were there to provide help. The circumstances were terrible all the way around.

      I agree with you that the elevation of a hater to the highest office in the land has legitimized the low thinking of so many creeps and philistines. It is evidenced in this kind of incident and in the comments sections of online news articles, etc. The wave of Fox News devotees who first emerged blinking from their holes during Bush 43's reign have only gotten fatter and uglier, and now they have their One True King.

      As I said to Gina, below, I won't boycott this store over one person. The store hires a very diverse workforce, including several special needs people. That was the first time I have ever encountered anything like that. As to a letter, I am still thinking about it. As you can tell, I was very upset--still am--by that cashier's remarks.

      I am so touched by your anecdote; I'm glad you and your husband were there. The poor children. So much collateral damage that the talking heads in DC don't care to think about.

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  8. What everyone else has said better than i coulda

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    1. Silliyak--Thanks for the support.

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  9. Fe de erratas - "NCmountainwoman"... NOT "MCmountainwoman". My apologies!!

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  10. I don't see how you could have directly told her anything and still shop there.

    What she said was reprehensible, but if you had even gently said something to contradict her, I don't think she would have received it well.

    You would be amazed at all the white people here in Orange County who spew their racist rants to me because I am white. It is so, so, disheartening.

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    1. Gina--Yes, disheartening is a very good word for it. And I don't want to stop shopping there because of that one individual. Marc's has a very diverse workforce there, and their staff is unfailingly pleasant to me, whether it is at the checkout or in the aisles. That was one reason why I was so shocked.

      It's this new Freedom To Be Awful that has gripped the nation. I'm sickened by it, as you are.

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  11. If theRighteous Woman wasvery young, you would have some hope she would grow out of it. But if not, I would suspect a total lack of empathy, an almosr equallyy vacant education experience and hoof in mouth disease. If you had said anything, she would have been resentful and even more righteous.
    Sucks to share the world with people like that. But then there IS you, who care. A ray of light in Stygian darkness.

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    1. Mary G--No, not young, and for that, I'm actually grateful. She's probably close to my age. I'd have found it far more upsetting had she been young and that intractable and backward in her thinking.

      And I know that, had I confronted her, it would have done absolutely nothing to change her thinking. That would not have been my purpose. I just can't abide allowing that sort of blatant ignorance or cruelty to go without challenge, check, or at least, comment. Especially these days. It's important to ensure that this does not become Normal or Accepted.

      Thank you for calling me a Ray Of Light! I will try to live up to that, especially when I'm feeling more like a Pit Of Darkness (or Snarkness, as the case may be).

      And, who knows? In retrospect, perhaps there is something in that woman's own personal history that made her so vicious in the moment. I don't know.

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  12. My speculation is tha there is nothing in her background to have taught her to think of other people as real. I cannot put myself into the mindset of someone who has never been taught to care about her fellow men, but I do recognise it. Damn it, even monkeys have sympathy for others. But humans can group into mobs that actually rend and tear, not just talk about it. Does the talking encourage? Or are such people already all the way over to cruel. I do't know. I just try to put myself in mind of other people more often.

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  13. I would have been too stunned to say anything - especially because lately I seem totally unable to speak eloquently on ANY subject. So annoying.

    My dad's new girlfriend is casually racist - "those Mexicans" and "I could tell that duvet had been in a black person's house because of how it smelled." I spend my time with her in a constant state of biting my tongue because my father's going to MARRY her for heaven's sake, and we just moved down here, and we kind of feel like she doesn't really know any better. Rather than hit her over the head when she says something offensive, I've been trying to steer her toward right thinking: "are you SURE that they're all from Mexico? Because odds are, they're from somewhere further south..."

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    1. Bug--When it is from someone in your own family (or soon-to-be family), it's a tough situation, to be sure. Your circumstances are a highwire act I don't envy at all. Tactfully standing up for your own "right thinking" as you call it is probably the best thing to do, but if the new gf is elderly and has been unthinkingly racist for her entire southern life...I wonder. Maybe, at least she will try to be more thoughtful in her speech around the Yankees.

      I hope your transition from OH to NC will be an easy one, now that the move is accomplished.

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  14. I agree with what everyone has said. "Casual hate" is plentiful right now. Plentiful and out in the open. I have been disturbed to learn how many people have such feelings. It sounds ultra melodramatic I know, but I truly feel like the world has spun off its axis and it will be very hard to get it back on just right.

    That said, one day you might be face to face with that cashier and she might ask you why you never go through her line any more. It's possible your reply then will give her pause at least but more likely it will make you feel a little better rather than change her opinions.

    "Struggling" is also a good word for what I've been doing of late. A friend of many years responded to an email query on why I hadn't heard from her in such a hateful way that I can't get it out of my head. She doesn't share my views and told me that the "pro-people" viewpoints (for lack of a better term) that I've shared are hateful and demeaning to her personally. I was shocked and blindsided, but gathered myself enough to reply briefly saying that "we clearly have different views right now." As my reward, I got even more of a tongue lashing. Admittedly, I am still in disbelief. How can this all be happening?

    Shirley

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    1. Shirley--Nice to see you here.

      I feel the same way you do. I'm stunned and so dismayed to find out that This Sort Of Person has been here all the time. That I've been surrounded by this kind of hatred and intolerance for so much of my life, and that all they've been waiting for is tacit approval. We've made no progress at all, I guess, and as Atticus Finch says, In the secret courts of men's hearts.

      I'm very sorry for the shock you endured with regard to your email correspondence with your former friend. I can only imagine how terribly hurt you were, and how saddened and, as you said, blindsided. Like you, I am struggling to find some sort of solace and sense in these times. It's terrible to feel like a stranger in your own state or country. I really did have no sense of this sort of undercurrent of hate. It is frightening.

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    2. Thanks, Nance. It's really hard to get through the days right now. Actions, disconnecting for hours at a time, watching Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, constant contact with like-minded friends, and imbibing--not necessarily in this order, especially on any given day--are the things that are getting me through. Only partially kidding. Mr. GFE, Son, and Sonny are in that mix, too, of course. I hope you're using your own support system to at least make breathing somewhat easier right now.

      Hugs,
      Shirley

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  15. Pleased to find your blog through Vagabonde. Appreciate locating an Ohio blogger with some views such as yours -- gives me hope for the redemption of my birth state. The public side of ourselves is often not revealed to our fellow workers and/or clients/customers. Even at that, appalling what is sometimes said -- in the heat of the moment, perhaps, though I cannot imagine wishing such violence on another despite anger I have sometimes felt toward others for far more personal violations. I heard some unexpected vitriol from individuals that I least expected to hear such views from when our former President became a candidate, then was elected to the office -- disappointing to say the least from people I thought I knew well. I don't think we need to inject ourselves into every situation between others to correct what we see as wrongs. In fact, I think it can be the better part of wisdom to pick and choose when it might be most appropriate, even necessary, to be outspoken, becoming involved.

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    1. joared--Welcome to the Dept., and thank you for your comments here. I'm from Northeast Ohio (NEO), the last bastion of Big Labor Democrats, which you may remember as a former Ohioan.

      "Picking one's battles" is a tough call anytime, but moreso these days. I feel as if we are standing up against the Biggest Bullies In The World.

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    2. Well, you're in the thick of it in Ohio and wonder if more people might be questioning what's happening in D.C. and how they'll be affected.

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  16. Sigh. I wish these sorts of things didn't happen. That people we like, but don't know well, didn't sometimes turn out to be creeps. Was it here on your blog that I once read of racist neighbors who also turned out to be very kind neighbors to someone in need? I don't remember. I guess the thing is that while what she said was reprehensible, it is not the entirety of her being. She may have very harsh beliefs in some areas, and yet be kind and giving in others. Or, she may just be a creep. Likely you will never know. What to do in situations like that can be difficult. One option is to consider it, which you have been doing, and if the opportunity presents itself again, you will know what to do. Another would be a letter. I truly do not understand the way some people think. Like when someone (almost always a black person) gets shot for a small infraction, and the comment is, 'well, follow the rules and this won't happen'. As if. Also, really, getting shot is appropriate for running from an officer, or speeding, or walking in the rain in a hoodie? That whole way of thinking is bizarre and horrible to me.

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    1. J@jj--I wish these things didn't happen either. And who is to say that her invective wouldn't have been unleashed a year ago, even, before this climate of Casual Hate? I don't know. What I do know is that it still bothers me, and I wonder now if I am more upset by her performance or mine.

      As to the scenario of racist neighbors, I believe you are referencing someone else's experience.

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Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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