I had a really creepy experience at the gym today. There was a guy who used every machine I did, right after I used it.
Doesn't sound bad when I say it right? But here is the story.
I'm still doing my rehab exercises. So I only use a very small handful of machines. Seriously, like four. Three for my legs and one for upper body, the upper body is because if I am going to be in the gym working on my rehab I need to have something for me that shows results to keep motivation up, so arms and upper back it is. ANYWAY...
The first time he did it I only noticed because I thought he might be OCD or something. There are two leg extension machines and he waited until I was done with my second set and jumped on the one I was using instead of the empty one next to it. Odd, but some people like certain machines. I avoid a few treadmills because they aren't smooth so I get it. Then he followed and did the same with the hamstring curl. I did my first set, did a stretch, did my second set and as I was walking away BAM! He's on it. Again I thought, well that's a little odd but quads then hamstrings not so unusual, and there is only one of those machines. Then I did lat pull downs. This time my first set was over I went to the bench I use for bridges and he was on the machine I just left. Not the empty one next to it, the one I left. When I went back for my second set I used the other machine. Then he did as well. As I went upstairs to finish out on the treadmill he sat down on the bench I had just been using.
It creeped me out.
Enough so that I looked for him when I left the gym. I made sure to walk out with someone else. And when I noticed a car pull out behind me on to the street I took a different way home than normal.
I did all of these things because as a woman I was raised knowing that if I am creeped out by someone these are the steps to take. Because he didn't do anything wrong. Not really. And I don't even know if he was being a creep on purpose. And if I was a man I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all. But I'm not so I did. And if he is there again next week and does the same thing then I will have to make a decision, report the odd behavior to the gym, again, he's working out on the same machines as me isn't much of an odd thing, right? Or change the time I work out. Which is most likely. And what women do. Avoid the creep. Should I have to? No. But will I? Yep. That's the way my world works. Because I'm a woman.
So as Brent and I are heading in to work this morning I'm checking my Facebook feed and I tell Brent, "you know I've discovered I can tell a lot about where people stand on an issue just by what they say. If they talk about the shooting in Ferguson versus the riots in Ferguson that tells me something about their world view right there." And then while I was at the gym the reports started coming out that Michael Brown was a suspect in a robbery before he was shot. I've got Fox News on one side and CNN on the other. Both reporting this like it's an "Oh well that explains it" moment. And after I got home I saw things on my newsfeed that seemed to echo the same thing. "See? He deserved it."
Because if stealing a pack of cigarettes is punishable by death then I just hope the statute of limitations has run out on the things I lifted from Walgreens while I was in high school. Yes, I was a petty thief. Candy, gum, cigarette lighters. I pocketed more than a few things. Does that mean I should have been shot? I've also used some strong arm tactics in my day. I had a bit of a temper. I've been in some altercations. Would that have justified my death? And how would people have responded to my picture on the news instead of his?
Do I think Michael Brown was an innocent angel on his way home from choir practice? No. Do I think the video they are showing of him robbing the convenience store shows that he was an intimidating guy? Yep. Do I have any real idea of what happened that night? Not really. But do I believe that black men in our society are treated differently by the police than white women? Yep. Absolutely. Without a doubt.
Because I've seen it. When the whole Zimmerman thing was going on I wrote about an experience I had in college here. I also have friends who have shared their experiences with me about encounters they have had. And what they have had to teach their sons about encounters with the police. These are men who are middle class and above. Men with good solid jobs. Family men living in the burbs. I've known many of them since we were kids so I can say out of the group of us I was the bad apple much more than they were. But they've each got at least one story to tell about an encounter that was terrifying. Because of the color of their skin. I don't doubt it for a second. Why would they lie to me?
We need to be able to figure out a way to talk about these sorts of issues that repairs them. And the first step is understanding that though you personally might not have ever had an issue it doesn't mean there isn't one. Listen to people who are different than you are. Broaden the colors in your crayon box. And really listen. When a black friend tells you about an encounter they had where they were followed through a department store by security pay attention. This is their story. When a female friend tells you about the creeper on the bus who tried to grab her butt, listen. This is her story. Just because it's not your experience doesn't make it not real. And once you start to understand that other people's stories are real. That this is really happening, then we can start to figure out together how to change things.
Because change comes from understanding.
Peace comes from empathy.
I think you saw an example of that last night. The protests remained peaceful when the police didn't show up in riot gear. When they engaged with the protesters instead of rolling by in armored vehicles. Calmer heads prevailed.
You are never going to reach a point of understanding if you are not willing to try to understand. So next time take off your metaphorical riot gear and listen. Engage. Ask questions. And listen to the answers you get.
You only get one world view. But you can do your best to broaden it.