The View from Someone Else’s Eyes

Photo © 2009 Ed Yourdon CC BY-SA 2.0
Click here for original image.

Shared recently by a friend of mine (on one of those social networking sites), a heartbreaking story, but not for the reasons you might expect.

A pretty, young woman is riding the train, reading a book. The entire car is empty, except for her and a quiet, elderly gentleman near the back. A young man enters, his bicycle in tow, and sits down directly opposite the young woman, leans over and says, “What’ch’ya readin’?”

She glares at him, voice piercing, “Look!”

Shock.

“I’m tired of being hit on. Please leave me alone. I’m reading!” Huffs. She returns to her book.

We don’t know exactly what she says, because she doesn’t reveal that to us. What we do know is that she is already upset due to something else, that she takes it out on this poor guy, that she says something to allude to the fact that she sees his question as sexually motivated, and that she uses the words, “Please leave me alone; I’m reading.”

What the young man doesn’t know is that just minutes ago, a group of three teenagers ganged up on her and opened with that exact same question. And when she tried to retreat, they taunted her and mocked her.

Of course, maybe they felt exactly the same way he does now.

He also doesn’t know that she hates to be approached by men she doesn’t know; that when he leaned over, she felt as though he was intruding into her personal space; and that she believes that men in general simply don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. (And she’s probably right.)

What she doesn’t know is what it’s like to be a man. She doesn’t know that most men feel emotion more strongly than most women. She doesn’t know that the only way for a man to meet a woman is to approach her, and every time a man does so, he takes an emotional risk. She doesn’t know that modern men grow up belittled by many women, often in the blasphemed name of women’s rights, but without the sympathy that the blasphemers themselves gain from society. She also doesn’t know that she’s reading into the situation her own fear and prejudice, a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Solomon himself wisely noted, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Wrapped up in herself, she is oblivious to the fact that she just emotionally sucker-punched this poor guy, who was only trying to be friendly.

So what would I do in this situation. Knowing what I know today, I would probably laugh. Why? Laughter overcomes anger. Recently, I was waiting in my car, waiting to pick up my daughters from an appointment, parked on the street. An older woman decided to parallel-park in front of me. No problem, except that she misjudged the distance and backed up into my car. I’ve done the same from time to time. Around here, we call it the Boston Bump.

But I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside a car that’s just been run into. It’s a physically shocking experience, emotionally traumatic, intrinsically way out of proportion to the actual damage, and there’s nothing you can do to avoid the acute panic that grips your gut.

Realizing that she had run into me, and probably flustered—because she no doubt saw that I was sitting in the car she had just run into—she tried again. And she misjudged again and ran into me again.

Third time’s a charm. She didn’t get it right, but at least she stopped short.

And now double gripped by indescribable and unjustified terror, with the poor lady approaching my driver’s-side window to see that I was alright, all I could do was to laugh. I told her it was okay, and I occasionally do the same thing trying to parallel park, and there was no way she was going to do any significant damage to my 10-year-old beater, which has already been through way worse. And after several minutes, I began to feel a little better; the panic started to lift. All I could do was to laugh.

That’s possibly why the Gang of Three taunted the pretty, young woman earlier, because they knew it would be wrong to beat her up, and that’s the only other thing they probably felt like doing after hearing her speak to them. So if it were me, I would laugh, and say something like, “Okay. Enjoy your book. I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I hope you feel better. I’m going to give you some space now.” And I would go visit the elderly gentleman in the back of the train, who obviously chose his seat more wisely than I did.

But this guy in the story is much younger than I, and one of the rules of youth is that you must do something stupid. We all have to do at least one really stupid thing for love and passion. So wrapped up in himself now, and still reeling from that sucker punch, he slinks away, muttering, “It isn’t my fault you’re pretty.”

He feels as though she blamed him, because she lashed out at him. And now she feels as though he’s blaming her. After all, if it’s not his fault she’s pretty, it must be her fault.

Oy f***in’ vey!

It gets worse.

Writing Love through the Eyes of an Idiot, I got to look back on a bunch of my own stupid things I did, with the benefit of decades of hindsight. Some of the stupidest—which I didn’t include in the book, because I didn’t even think of them until later—make this guy seem almost Vulcan.

At one point, “Helena” (chapter 9) started dating another guy. That July 4, a whole group of us went to see the fireworks together. And I got it in my head to be physically close to her, even to put myself between her and him. She later told me, that’s not okay. (Yeah, ya think?) What kind of logic was going through my head? None. Not logic, just pure passion.

On another occasion, I left Helena’s apartment, having been rejected, dazed in pain and anger. I later was told that in the yard I greeted Helena’s mother with, “Fuck off!” I do not clearly remember the encounter. Into my car, not fit to drive, I managed to run a red light on the way. Didn’t say anything to the cop. Couldn’t say anything, not even “Hello.” With trembling fingers, I took the ticket, pulled over into a parking lot, and proceeded to weep bitter tears, until I had no more tears left.

There was clearly much more going on there than just a crush on some random girl. And that something had nothing to do with her. To this day, I don’t specifically know what was going on, inside. All I’ve learned is how to seek perspective.

Back on the train, this poor guy, instead of laughing about the stupidity life throws at us sometimes, he dwells on his hurt feelings. Bad move. Trust me; I know, because: been there; done that.

He glares at her and begins to taunt her in his whiniest voice, “Please leave me alone I’m reading! Please leave me alone!

Oh yeah, dude. Good move. That’ll give you some perspective.

If you can’t laugh, the next best thing is to become Mr. Spock. Breathe deeply. Do not allow yourself to be gripped by the wild throes of illogic that so torment the human race. You are Mr. Spock; she is Dr. McCoy. Personally, I have to give Spock credit; I don’t know how he worked on the same ship as that wild man, served on the same missions, without going crazy in the process.

She’s terrified by now, pretending to read, supposedly engrossed her book, but everyone knows she’s not.

He’s up out of his seat, pacing back and forth across the front of the car. He mutters something about his dead mother. (Apparently, there’s something else she doesn’t know.) He calls her names. He stops, his eyes piercing hers. “Suck my dick, bitch! You bitch! You stupid bitch! You goddamn ho! If I had a gun, I’d shoot you. I would fucking kill you, bitch!” Over and over again, he screams at her, screams at his dead mother, screams at her again.

If his goal was to make her feel worse than she made him feel, he’s probably succeeded. Caught between fight, flight, or freeze, she’s chosen to freeze. But she’s not beyond fighting.

But none of this has anything to do with her. It’s just sad.

Unfortunately, based on her telling of the story, she has still not learned anything from the encounter, other than that men are even crazier and more lost than she previously thought. And none of that has anything to do with the men. It’s just sad.

-TimK

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Comments

Tim,

It’s kind of spooky that I happened to pick a caption for that photo of mine so that it matched the theme of your blog so closely …

Cheers,
Ed

Yes, it was. Of course, I was searching on Flickr for photos with boy-girl themes. But still… 🙂

Cheers,
-TimK

The problem here is that you turned what is a daily reality for women into “but what about the menz?” — a common occurrence in these sorts of discussions. How horrible would it be if men were taught that women were not some sort of public property, to be hooted at from car windows, told to smile, have our bodies remarked upon? Or, as in this case, mockable for merely telling someone that they wished to be left alone? I don’t give a damn whether the guy was “just trying to be friendly;” he lacked the basic manners to leave someone alone who asked, politely, to be left alone.

If men were subjected to a constant barrage of sexual harassment like this, I would perhaps feel differently about what you wrote. But it Just Doesn’t Happen. Women do not walk up to strange men and say “Smile! You would look much more handsome if you were smiling” or demand to know whether the books in which they are engrossed are any good as an entree to further discussion. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been taught to better read the cues that say “This person isn’t interested in discussion right now”? I don’t know. What I *do* know is that I’m glad middle age has resulted in a lot fewer hoots, cat-calls and demands for smiles from strange men than it used to do.

I don’t give a damn whether the guy was “just trying to be friendly;” he lacked the basic manners to leave someone alone who asked, politely, to be left alone.

I think that pretty much sums it up. She did not say she asked politely. She said, “I assertively but calmly tell him to please leave me alone, I am reading.” (And I am calling BS on the “calmly” part of that, because even I couldn’t be calm after the experience she had had.) Moreover, she mentions no catcalls or hoots in her story, just her getting annoyed and the guys she gets annoyed at being jackasses. Sounds to me like the whole lot of them need to take a chill pill, to stop assuming that the world is against them, because—guess what—it isn’t. There was no evil here, just stupidity. And if you can’t give a damn about that, you’ve failed to learn the lesson of this story.

Because that was the point of the story, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, even someone you think is being a stupid jackass. People are mere humans. But no one is beyond redemption. Always teach, always hope, always persevere.

-TimK

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