While tossing dangerously outdated canned goods into the trash bins at the curb, I happened to overhear two of my quieter neighbors arguing on the sidewalk in front of their house. I didn’t stay out there to hear more and I can’t repeat the words I did hear. They’re no one else’s business at this point in time, certainly not mine, but there was emotional pain in those words.
The incident brought forcefully to mind that things are not always what they seem:
- Quiet people may be harboring years of pent-up frustration.
- The nicely dressed woman may be covering up bruises underneath her Macy’s outfits.
- The respectable husband may suddenly snap and walk out on his social climbing wife.
- The always-smiling couple may be hiding deep depression over wayward children, so we are shocked when one or the other is involved in a suicide.
Of course we don’t usually interfere when a domestic couple is arguing. The most dangerous calls that our police go out on are “domestic violence” calls, so for a civilian to get involved is asking for major trouble. We can get ourselves back into the house without drawing attention to ourselves to call 911, if there is screaming or the sounds of someone being threatened, or punched around. If a woman is being attacked by a rapist, then I would hope a passing male would man up and drag the pervert off her. And if there’s a child, always if there’s a child, then we all get involved no matter what.
If a man slaps his wife at church, that’s a delicate situation that even a minister or pastor may have difficulty handling. But it does behoove other church members to offer assistance to the humiliated woman, and if possible, to take her husband elsewhere till he calms down. We don’t just stand around with our hands in our pockets, staring at the carefully manicured carpet. We try to help, to do something, even though we know the couple is suddenly going to close ranks and tell us to butt out.
Even though most of us are smart enough to avoid even the appearance of evil, other situations may also not be what we think they are. There is an old, old story about a deliveryman who always spent an hour or so at the same single woman’s house every morning. After the neighbors started gossiping, the story spread like wildfire. The truth was the woman was the daughter of the deliveryman and she cooked breakfast for her widowed dad every day. Do you think the neighbors put as much effort into squelching the gossip as they had in spreading it? Of course, they didn’t. Nor would it have helped much if they had. The damage was done.
The writer who doesn’t always attend certain social events because he’s known to find them boring may also be facing frequent client deadlines. Only those who freelance can understand what that means, so a writer is going to look for support among other creatives without shutting himself out of the mainstream. After all, most of his ideas come from observing the ebb and flow of humanity’s interactions with each other and sometimes participating in them.
On another front, employees may appear to be swallowing insults from management on a regular basis. Their apparent cooperation over unrealistic quotas and/or deadlines, micromanagement of their work, company turf wars, obsession with metrics, and being talked to like kiddies in a sandbox is not really cooperation at all. Their behavior is often passive-aggressive but that will not dawn on higher management until much later when they might find a carefully inserted four-letter word in a critical customer-facing document. Gotcha!
Indeed, things are not always what they seem.