One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies goes something like this: “Look for low and outside…but watch out for in your ear.” I think of it often when something happens that I was “sure” wouldn’t happen, and I am reminded of the fragility of our perceptions of anything that’s going on around us. There’s always something, some detail we either missed or couldn’t have known about a circumstance—even in one-to-one relationships—that might have had us looking for “in your ear.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought a couple madly in love, only to hear later that they’re engaged in a nasty divorce. Or the times when I’ve been totally blindsided by people I worked with because I was “sure” they understood what I was saying and why. Once or twice, it has resulted in my losing not just a job but a relationship I valued. I was looking for “low and outside,” and totally missed the signs that the ball was coming for my ear. The damage done me required that, for a while after, to protect myself from further injury, I switched what I was looking for. In other words, I began just to look for “in my ear.” It was easier to avoid getting hurt again.
You’ll notice, perhaps, that I didn’t say that I switched to looking for “in my ear,” but watching out for “low and outside.” That’s because we humans don’t usually work that way. At times, I wonder how many relationships and situations I’ve avoided that would have enriched my life beyond measure, all because I forgot to look for “low and outside.”
There’s a video parading around the internet about a Georgia teacher, who has now resigned over what has been called abuse of a special needs child. And another, of Donald Trump’s campaign manager, allegedly attacking a female reporter. There are multitudes of them, all posted as examples, posted by self-righteous people with unknown, though sometimes obvious, agendas of accusation of others of hideous crimes. What pops into my mind are the not only posted but edited videos, like those presented as “evidence” of Planned Parenthood’s evil. Thankfully, in that case, “evil” has been shown more in the subterfuge of pretense by the videographers than of Planned Parenthood itself. At least, that’s what the grand jury, who was there to observe the evidence, concluded.
Whether I happen to pop onto Facebook or a friend/acquaintance sends me an email with a link, I usually go and try to look at the videos with “fresh eyes,” as unencumbered as possible by the “pre-introductions” and headlines that are transparently intended to influence the way I or anyone who views them…well, views them. I’m human, so I don’t always succeed, but I do try. I sometimes avoid sharing memes and articles and videos because I look to see who the original posters are and decide that I don’t want to be automatically associated with a group by a particular name or I get a few paragraphs in and see that the author is neither promoting an independent journalistic perspective or fails to distinguish between factual news and editorial opinion.
I’ve always been so inclined. I don’t know if that’s because, as a student, I never studied from other people’s notes or if it’s because I am a psychological diagnostician by training or if it’s because I have found myself many times on the wrong side of other’s perceptions and beliefs. I would guess that the practice comes from all three, but especially the last. The perceptions that find their way into action that attempts to discriminate against, humiliate, or ignore the feelings or validity of the perceived have the longest-lasting effects—perpetuating the insult exponentially.
But back to the videos. When I watched the video of the teacher whose life has now been immutably changed, I understand how someone could, under the influence of headlines, “see” abuse. But I also understand that, when my hands are full, I use my knee or elbow to do things. I learned as a child in south Georgia how to handle gnats around my eyes by blowing up with my lips, for instance. In other words, I can also see a teacher with her hands full, coming around a door to go into a classroom, encountering a child in the doorway, and nudging him to move forward with her knee. I can also imagine, because it has happened to me, that a child whose balance is not perfectly set, could fall forward–especially if he wasn’t expecting the nudge. Maybe he was a child who often stood on the outside of things, afraid to go in, and needed a nudge. Maybe the “nudge” was harder than the teacher intended. We don’t see what happened afterward, but allegedly, there was another adult just inside the door who reached to help the child, who stood up and went into the room, followed by the teacher with her hands full.
I’m not saying that it wasn’t exactly as it was presented by the original poster. Maybe this is an outrageously abusive teacher who should’ve been gone long ago. But a five second video observed objectively can’t give us any of the information we need to determine what really happened. A glance on Facebook or YouTube can’t. We have juries of 12 people in most criminal court cases, and have for many years, simply because one person’s view, even of two people standing side-by-side observing the very same event, can be vastly different for reasons we can’t possibly know. We hope that a majority will see something about the event in the same way, and that majority will come closer to the truth of the matter. But in the court of Facebook and YouTube, a teacher is now forever guilty in the minds of some of something she may have done, but more importantly, also may not have. She’s lost her livelihood, her vocation, her ability to contribute, based on her own professional training, to the learning of someone’s child with developmental problems.
The same thing is true of Donald Trump’s campaign manager. I’ve watched that video several times too, and what I see is something that probably could’ve been solved by a simple apology—after the fact, because it doesn’t appear to me that Corey Lewandowski even knew he had done it until later. I suspect he was focused on getting Trump out of the room to safety. Remember the breach of the secure perimeter at an earlier rally? The assassination of Bobby Kennedy as he strolled through a crowd in a hotel?
Let me hasten to say that I find Donald Trump to be nothing but a classic narcissist who if elected president would bring unparalleled incompetence at governance (and that’s saying something, given today’s Congress) and bring down on us more potential for attack from the outside than any other candidate. And Corey Lewandowski, as Trump’s campaign manager, would be an accessory to the crime of helping to bring it about. But when I look at the video of the incident with the Breitbart reporter, the possibility that it was simply a function of a reporter’s being in the wrong place at the right time seems more likely. I got a bruise on my arm when I was standing near a sidewalk at the BellSouth Classic Golf Tournament a few years ago waiting to see Phil Mickelson go from a green to the next tee. People have died in stampedes at soccer games—should we search the videos to see just who stepped on them and file wrongful death suits on their behalves?
Stop. Think. Breathe. Don’t believe anything unless it resonates with you, and be careful to check why it resonates with you. Make sure that it isn’t bound in a cemented view already in place that somebody else you’ve never even met told you was true. Make sure that just because someone black in a hoodie stole a TV from your neighbor, your wife left you for another man (or woman), a police officer shot a kid with a toy gun in the next town over, a deranged person who happens to be a (Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, you fill in the blank) blows himself up in Pakistan or Beirut or Boston—that you don’t indict, try and convict every black person, every woman, every reporter, every police officer and anyone born into a particular faith as guilty solely on the basis of a single characteristic. Look for more evidence. Because once you throw a pitch at somebody else’s head, you’ve created a whole new reality…for them, and for you.
As I said, I know it’s hard when you’ve been ignored, humiliated, called stupid or aloof or arrogant or condescending, or treated as if you are 3/5ths of a person. But before you react, before you share, before you retaliate, check first to see if maybe you’re looking for “in your ear,” and forgetting that “low and outside” is far more likely. And no matter what that Facebook post and the National Enquirer seem to suggest, it still is.
We have a choice over how we view everything, even our lives. Why we seem not to choose the view that causes us and others the least damage…I don’t know.
But here’s to low and outside. If it turns out to be in my ear…so be it.