I was driving with my 17-year-old son one day when we were stopped at a light.
There, in the crosswalk was a young boy, maybe 14. His hair was slicked back and covered by a bright red ball cap worn backwards. I couldn’t help but watch him. It was like his walk was talking to me.That may sound weird but from my vantage point it screamed out for attention.
There was a cocky bounce in his step that gave him a certain swagger. His shoulders were pulled back, leaving the chest wide open and taunting — hey you got a problem with me — come get me — I dare you. His walk told me that he was ready for a fight. Any fight.
“Hey look at the kid in the red cap,” I said nudging my son. “The one in the crosswalk.”
“What about him,” he asked pulling his ear buds out.
“Do you recognize him?”
“Yeah. He’s a little jerk,” my son said. “He’s always in trouble for fighting and stuff.”
“I can see that by the way he walks,” I said.
“Huh? Whaddya mean the way he walks?”
I pointed out the cues that the boy was throwing off. To me the young boy looked scared and defensive. I asked my son if he could see that.
“Yeah, I can see it now that you point it out,” he said. “But the kid is still a jerk.”
“Have you ever considered how he became a jerk?” I asked. “What is the cause of his behaviour? He wasn’t born a little jerk, something happened to him somewhere along the line. I’d bet that his home life isn’t very stable and perhaps even violent. Who knows if he has enough food to eat or a bed to sleep in?”
“You get all that from the way he walks?” my son asked.
We ended up having a great discussion about how we have to look past the obvious and not always simply accept what we see.
After that the earbuds were back in and I was left with my own thoughts.
I considered the idea that the boy’s behaviour is his only power and to find any truth about who he really is, you’d need to look behind the bravado. What trauma has he experienced in his short life that makes him so defensive? I felt sorry for the young boy but the fact that I learned from my son that he’s attending school gives me hope. Hope that’ll he connect with someone who cares. At least at school there’s the chance for him to find a teacher or administrator that sees his potential behind the behaviour.
Since that day, I find asking the question ‘what happened to you?’ is a great thing to keep in my back pocket. It doesn’t only apply to 14 year old boys in ball caps, it can be about any individual you meet or encounter in life. I don’t know how many times I’ve been somewhere and a staff member or customer is acting like a complete idiot and the immediate knee-jerk reaction is ‘omg what’s wrong with you?’ Now I try to consider what happened to you to make you act like that? They’re obviously having a lousy day — who knows maybe their cat just died or they didn’t sleep, or? And, hey a tailgater — maybe he’s trying to get to the hospital with his pregnant wife. Who knows?
The point is that no one comes with a label plastered on their head saying that this is what happened and this is why they’re behaving in a certain manner. That would make life too easy wouldn’t it?
Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or fayeearcand.com