Do NOT Approach: A Tale of Mistaken Identity
I don't consider myself a jogger, however as part of my workout, I typically run 3 to 4 miles a day, pretty much everyday of the week. I run rain or shine, snow or sleet. My apparel isn't elaborate; typically beat up olive drab fatigues, an old t-shirt and sometimes a hat if it's chilly or wet.
Yesterday, Because it was raining I had my forest green rain coat on along with a baseball hat that I picked up twenty some years ago when I did some training in South Korea. Soaked from head to toe, I finished my run. I sprinted across Leonard street toward Westside Fitness, the gym that I teach my Krav Maga Classes. The gym is in an old strip mall that used to be what we called "little Meijers." It was a Meijers grocery store before they transitioned into the gigantic hyper markets they are today. Anyway, there are a number of other shops in the building one of which is a subway. There was a lady coming out of that subway. She was walking to her car when I came jogging into the parking lot. Our paths were intersecting, so I said hello to her. Her reply caught me completely off guard:
"Do NOT Approach!" She said loudly, with venom dripping from her tongue and an angry look in her eye.
I was confused for a split second, than it dawned on me that she must of thought I was a homeless person asking for money.
I started to explain that I wasn't what she thought I was, but no sooner than the words formed on my lips, she said in a louder, even more pissed off tone, "DO NOT Approach!" And picked up her pace toward her vehicle.
As I turned toward the door, she spit her final words of advice to my back, "Get a fucking job!"
I smiled and shook my head as I headed to the gym.
After my amusement subsided, I have to admit a bolt of anger shot through me from the way she treated me. And then just like that the feeling passed and I chuckled to myself.
After that interaction I couldn't help but to think a few things:
1) Apparently I need some new schnazzy jogging gear that distinguishes me from being a homeless person. =)
2) It is interesting to me how socialized we are. What do I mean? Well, a few things really; for starters, the disdain we have for those who we feel aren't part of our social "norm" be it people who we believe aren't contributing to society, or even worse "living off" the work of others, so to speak. Free loaders, bums, vagrants, homeless, drifters, gypsies, street people, etc. we tend to avoid them, scorn them, judge them, sometimes people take advantage of them, try to teach them a lesson or hurt them in some way. Now, I'm not a sociologist, psychologist or anything, but I think that another aspect of people treating others badly is due to being conflicted in ourselves:
A) Much like the iconic 80's movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris's sister was jealous because she worked hard and Ferris chose not to be a drone of the system, but instead played it and (in the movie), got away with murder. This of course, pissed her off to no end, because she how dare someone else try to shortcut the system that she was working so hard to be good at? They shouldn't have things "easier" than her, they should know their place in hierarchy of things. How dare Ferris actually get what he want and be popular beating the very system that she toiled so hard to get to the top of?
Anyway, some people are like this in real life too. They worked hard to "get ahead" in the system in which they live and it really pisses them off to see someone "play" that system they are "slaves to." So in their eyes, seeing people on welfare, beg for money and/or not have a regular job for whatever reason may look like someone is trying to soak the system that they themselves adhere to so loyally, even if they struggle with it, or resent aspects of it. Kind of like people who get mad at others who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound, where you and I look at food and our pant size goes up a size.
B) Another interesting thing is we often find ourselves conflicted. We may feel threatened in some way (maybe physical, social, etc) and believe that we need to defend ourselves. Being that we want to feel good about ourselves (we don't want to feel like the "bad guy" so to speak) and because it hurts us to hurt people we care about or who are like us, we tend to rationalize our decisions and often dehumanize or demonize those we feel we need to defend ourselves from. Thus, the anger in the woman's voice and aggression in her actions toward me due to her perception of who/what she thought I was. Who knows, maybe she was attacked before or was afraid of being hurt again in some way, it's hard to tell for sure.
3) Something else I noticed was the way I felt by her believing me to be a homeless guy asking her for money. I was offended and it upset me that she disrespected me and treated me like a piece of shit, second class citizen. I was able to laugh about it, but there is a part of me that is a bit mad when I think about it. It made me hesitate saying hello to others for a little while after that.
4) Under the circumstance, her attitude was too gung ho and rather than keeping her safe, it could have escalated the situation into an assault or worse. Heck, I'm a pretty good guy and teach protectors for a living and after she treated me that way I wanted to at the very least tell her off.
It was totally alright for her to keep her distance and communicate that she didn't want to be approached (even though I wasn't approaching her, I was just walking to Westside's door). However, maybe with more training and confidence she could learn to assess the situation more accurately, stay baseline and communicate more effectively without escalating a situation and contributing to or even causing a problem.
I have to hand it to her though, she had her interview stance down well!
5) Lastly, it makes me evaluate how I approach and treat others (whether coming from subway, homeless or not).
Good lessons all the way around!
Now if you'll excuse me I have to go to MC Sports to pick up the latest fashions in jogging apparel! ;-]