Early this morning while I was out for my run a man in a rusty old Blazer stopped and tried to ask me something. I pretended I didn't hear him and kept running without breaking stride.
And then I spent the rest of my run thinking about it.
Why hadn't I stopped to see if I could help him? Was it because he was a "he"? Was it because his beat up old vehicle was big enough for a body bag in back? Was it the time of day? The fact that I was alone?
It was probably all of that.
Snap judgments, we all make them.
Truth is, if it had been a woman driving a nice sedan with a car seat in back, I probably would've stopped to see what she needed. Does that make me a hypocrite or smart?
It's been a few months now, but I personally still feel the sting from the apparent racism of the Trayvon Martin killing. I also hate that this case is unfolding in the media, giving us what ultimately may turn out to be a slanted version of what happened that day, but only because of the initial media attention is there even now a case. That's a real conundrum.
And to be honest I've not even tried very hard to hold my judgments at bay about George Zimmerman and why he did what he did. Just ask my friend who thought it was a good idea to relay to me--with glee in his voice, no less--the news that Trayvon's autopsy report showed traces of marijuana in his system. Seriously, what is that supposed to prove? That Trayvon was a bad kid generally and deserved to die?
I think we all have such visceral reactions to incidents like Trayvon Martin's killing because we all worry that we have a little bit of George Zimmerman in us. We fear people because of what they look like, and the circumstances in which they appear before us.
Don't get me wrong, I think what happened to Trayvon Martin was awful. Appalling. Unconscionable. It's one thing to be leery of someone, and another entirely to follow and gun them down. The initial reaction may be something we all share, to some degree, but what separates us is the actions that flow from that reaction.
And the kicker is seemingly harmless people can be highly dangerous as well. Take Ted Bundy, for instance. He didn't set off internal alarms in the many women he killed because he was a "handsome and charismatic" guy. He'd approach women claiming to need help and they'd trust him because he didn't "look" like a rapist, kidnapper, or serial killer.
Snap judgment failure, for sure.
I don't know the answer to this dilemma. Maybe there is no answer. Perhaps the puzzle just keeps us thinking about ourselves and how we interact with those around us, both fairly and unfairly.
And maybe that self-examination, in itself, helps makes us better people.
UPDATE: Guess I was smart. Attempted kidnapping of a young female runner on a trail in a Denver suburb, just three days after this post. In the middle of the day, no less.