field of sunflowers

“She has never met a stranger, Doc! Trying to teach her to be safe around people she doesn’t know is really hard.”

I laughed as I checked out his daughter’s right ear and then her left with my otoscope then placed the instrument back on the wall rack.

“Yeah, my kids like to wave at scary people at stop lights, and I mean really scary people…,” I caught myself awkwardly after the emphasis.

I glanced over at him quickly to gauge how he took that last statement.

He was a big, burly man with a full beard and multiple nose and lip piercings. He had large black spacers in his ear lobes and tribal tattoos over his arms. He worked as a motorcycle mechanic and his hands were always dirty. Did he wonder if he was someone I would have thought was scary at a stoplight? I am certain he had been treated as if he were by others over the years, probably many times.

What makes someone scary?

To be honest, he would be downright terrifying to me twenty years ago if I met him on the street.  At this point in my life I like to think I know better. Then, I make a stupid comment about waving at scary people at stop lights.

Is it just the unknown? Or is it the simple fact that someone does not look like us?

When I was a little kid I used to sit on the bed in the back of my grandpa’s RV waving at all of the truck drivers that pulled up behind us on road trips. When my parents realized what was happening, I got in trouble. Big trouble. They wanted to make sure I understood that sort of behavior would probably get me killed or raped by some strange man.

Truck drivers are dangerous.

One day in med school I was chatting with a very friendly woman on the psych ward. She was articulate. Bubbly. Kind with the other patients, sort of a mother hen. She was a joy be around. My attending called me over after a few minutes and told me she had gouged out the eyes of her four kids because they had glowed red in a photograph and must have been possessed by Satan. She managed to kill three of them. The fourth child survived. Blind. It shook my confidence. That was not at all what I had expected.

Shouldn’t you be able to see the bad in people?

A few years later I handed some medication samples to a man at the clinic. He pointed at my son’s picture on the wall and commented on what a handsome boy he was. I had treated that man for years and thought I knew him pretty darn well. I liked him. It was maybe two weeks later that he was arrested for molesting his two grandchildren and a disabled stepson.

The realization that someone’s appearance cannot tell you who they are throws the whole world off balance. The most dangerous people are the ones with evil you cannot see.

Should I let my kids smile and wave at strangers at a stop light? Hell, I don’t know. I just wish fear did not have to rule so much of our lives. 


121 thoughts on “Scary

  1. I certainy understand your fears.
    Never judge a book by its cover and all that, but from my fostering experience, it was close relatives who did a lot of the damage, and yet to outsiders, the picture was that of a caring, loving family.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I love this post. Powerful stuff. Looks can be so deceiving and so can our intuition. People who are genuinely evil know how to manipulate both. And people who suffer from real mental disorders, aren’t even aware of it. It’s those of us who are sane who are always wondering if we’re crazy.

    My secret in life, shaped by biases and prejudice, is to trust the bikers and truck drivers, the scary looking people. It’s the ones that look good on the outside, the ones the world approves of, that often wear masks.

    Also, forgive yourself if you ever get it wrong. Evil disguises itself well.

    Liked by 10 people

    • Love your outlook…. bikers and truck drivers have my vote too. We had to be brought back on a flat bed when our car broke down. Our driver was a rough diamond and totally terrific. The second time we broke down (different car and different rescue) our driver was a tattooed human pin cushion, and another absolute gem.
      You are so right about evil. It has many faces and rarely shows its true colours to outsiders.

      Liked by 6 people

  3. With these kind of scenarios, I see how easy would be to let fear rule your life. These people did some horrific things. Wow. I think it’s true what you say, “The most dangerous people are the ones with evil you cannot see.” Those are the scary ones.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. This is a very true story for many. I lived in a small town where you went for coffee at the only restaurant and you could be joined by anyone. I’d learn later that I’d chatted over coffee with a murderer, a child molester and myriad other issues-ridden pasts. Hmmm, you’ve given me an idea for another story too. Very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I worked in outpatient psychotherapy for several years. The strangest and most disturbing cases often originated from the most normal and successful of all our patients who walked in the door. Glad you posted this!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s one of the most terrifying thing about humans…that you can’t just look at someone and see what they’re capable of (or willing to do).
    I’ve gotten a lot of side eyes and odd comments about my tattoos over the years and it hurts to be judged based strictly on appearance, but at least around here that’s how people are reared.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think we have to give people the benefit of the doubt, whether they’re bizarrely standing in the middle of a cereal aisle crying because they knocked over a box, or they’re acting acting normally. Because in either case, we don’t know what they’ve been through. We don’t need to seek either in a dark alley, but when in a social setting, acting with kindness can make a positive difference. No matter what the person’s background and situation.
    Being scared is not necessary. Being prudent is.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This is a tough question regarding who to trust. But my kids, as far as I know, never waved at strangers. Probably because I always warned them to be wary of child molesters, abductors and, rapists.

    I am biased to an extent but there are good people no matter how they dress or look. You just have to be very careful and try to use your gut instincts.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fear doesn’t need to rule so much of our lives. We can be vigilant, as individuals, parents, or as a society, without living in a perpetual state of fear, suspecting paedophiles in every park. The new “reds under the bed”. Kids absolutely should wave at strangers if they want to!

    I know in the UK, that kids are no more at risk from adults now than they were thirty years ago, but parental fear is off the chart. The irony is that kids are more at risk now… but it’s from other kids.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You make a good point. One’s judgment isn’t always a good indicator of ‘evil.’ ‘Stranger danger’ is a myth, as most kids are harmed by people they know and trust. Praying for a safe outcome is about all we can do.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Fascinating topic-with many different viewpoints as you can see from your comments Victo. My experience is a combination of many of those comments. Evil will do its very best to look as normal and unremarkable as possible in order to pass itself off. Situational awareness is critical in noticing behaviour with an ulterior motive. In 6 years of trucking in the Bronx,Harlem, Detroit, Chicago, etc – I never once had anyone attack or steal from me. Mind you I’ve had my “Something is wrong here” alarm sound many many times whereupon I would withdraw quickly. Evil really does exist and stalks the face of the earth sometimes looking for the unaware, usually looking for those who are greedy and wish personal gain. I’ve had colleagues murdered, killed under suspicious circumstances, killed in compromising situations, beaten, robbed, etc. Truckers have one of the highest death rates of the professions.

    When we had teens, we impressed upon them that people were not necessarily nice – street smarts. When the young boy seemed very hesitant to even talk to anyone, I got suspicious and asked him what percentage of people he thought would harm him and he replied one in ten. I told him that it was more like one in ten thousand. And I impressed awareness and retiring when he felt something wasn’t right – and increase his extroversion. I also encouraged him to decide for himself whether to agree or not with friends and acquaintances. Nothing beats a strong sense of self and situational awareness to avoid danger.

    My Mum taught child abuse to Masters and PhD students at UBC and the truth is that the vast majority of abuse occurs with someone the children trust – family members or close family friends. Also abuse and murder of women is the same -in fact over 70% of all abuse – and the leading cause of death in women from age 21 to 50 is family members or trusted friends. As a proud Christian society, we kill our weakest members because we can. That said I wouldn’t worry too much about harm coming to you or yours from strangers Victo – it rarely happens and never happens in most peoples lives.

    Liked by 4 people

    • You always have such great comments. “We kill our weakest members because we can.” I led a very sheltered life growing up and had very little experience with which to judge the world when I was finally on my own. I don’t want that for my kids at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Much as those who question their sanity are the sanest,so too those who question their safety are the safest. Have no fear Victo you’re well on the way to making the kids world-proof.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think your comments are right on target, Paul. It occurs to me that I have been shielded (mercifully) from exposure to people prone to antisocial behavior. My shipmates in the Navy all passed through the acceptance-screening process and my work as an engineer kept me with people who had become successful in some way. (Not that I didn’t see the occasional oddball.) I can see how truckers and doctors would encounter much more variety. I don’t even want to think about what cops and social workers must see.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Jim. I have an enormous amount of respect for cops but would never want their jobs – as you said they see the worst, although they have guns and power, which helps some I am sure.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think not knowing does make you fearless. I was thinking about this in the context of weather. As a kid, I remember the weather forecaster would talk about chance of rain. Now it is, “chance for severe weather” and they are doing live shots with reports standing in the rain talking about how bad the weather is. It is RAINING for crying out loud. But raining doesn’t sell so it has to be severe weather now. I just don’t turn on the news in my house anymore. My kids don’t need to be exposed to that. Growing up is hard enough.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That it’s difficult to know how far to trust our instincts with people we meet. We’ve all been taken in at one time or another, and it’s luck if it hasn’t ended badly. On the other hand, I refuse to let fear rule my life, and see a pervert in everyone who says hello to kids, or a terrorist in every dark person with a beard at the airport. Speaking of kids, I grew up in a society (Athens in the 60’s), where you were told ‘If someone on the bus gives you a sweet, you take it and say thank you, even if you don’t want it’ !! It still feels like that in some ways – people love kids and will talk to them and ruffle their hair, so it’s hard to know how to handle it – you don’t want them cowering every time someone speaks to them. It’s a fine line.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is a fine line. People are drawn to kids in particular and they are not trying to victimize them. But my kids are my most precious possession (feels weird to call them a possession, though) and I struggle mightily with that instinct to protect them from all harm. Gah! So hard.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. My attending called me over after a few minutes and told me she had gouged out the eyes of her four kids because they had glowed red in a photograph and must have been possessed by Satan. She managed to kill three of them. The fourth child survived. Blind.< holy ****. I thought or hoped that was fiction.

    Nice post, really highlights the fact we cannot see the evil underneath, and our perceptions and decoding of people is often wonky.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Absolutely true it is the ones we think we can trust that betray. And it is not a new phenomenon. It is just out of the dark corners and more people are aware and hence, afraid. So sad. I worry about my 27 yo step daughter every day, who is very innocent and she lives alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Safe with you in the car, let them wave away. Be respectful to others no matter how different, strange, or scary they look, especially in a safe environment. Don’t get into cars, go down allies, or rooms away from others away from others. Stay with the group, stay in public, stay close, no matter how nice or generous someone appears. And just for good measure, keep no secrets. These are the rules I thought my kids.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I don’t know how you can see the evil in people – the best you can do is protect your children and try to teach them to be wary. Like you, I’m outgoing and could probably, but for the grace of God, have reaped the whirlwind at some point. Be safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This might sound a bit naive or overconfident, but the results astound people I know to this day..

    Discernment is the best word I’ve found in the comments to describe this..

    We use it, it’s the way we use it that fails..

    Either from lazy comfort or wanting to believe what we want to see in others or maybe it’s because we want to trust our own instincts based on the cover we see..

    But we don’t want to be wrong either.. So giving into the genius con of evil people, we feel better that we couldn’t see it coming..

    When people I know are aware I sense a bad outcome coming or a bad person ready with ulterior motives, they ask later how did I know ?

    It’s by not trusting what I see in plain sight.. And only trusting what doesn’t add up or what does add up..

    The person who you first meet, friend or romantic prospect, that too early professes, ” I’d never lie to you ” is already lying.. Doesn’t matter how genuine, generous or seemingly devoted.. They are working to gain your trust for their benefit not yours.. And its worse if they claim it because you’ve spilled the beans of being lied to before.. A normal response would be, I hope our relationship can grow past your past.. Not a claim of, I’d never..
    Other statements of deceit would be, I’d never.. cheat.. steal from or hurt you..

    In our discernments we also often ignore what our subconscious picks up on, body language.. When the body belies the words.. Lack of eye contact at crucial statements or too much eye contact which is unnatural.. The facial expression not matching the words being said.. arms, hands and torso animation that doesn’t fit what the mouth speaks..

    The biggest telltale of continuity or lack of, is how the person treats and speaks of others, other than you..

    We tend to gravitate to extremes.. Either too guarded never trusting or trusting too soon and overlooking the tells..

    I’m wrong about ppl time to time but not often.. And I blame myself in hindsight for things I should’ve seen.. I just got lazy or wanted the person to be as they pretended to be..

    The only ppl who should be able to con our guard down are the conned themselves, the ones who truly believe in their own lies, unable to discern right from wrong..

    As far as kids waving to strangers at a light or even in a moving car, years ago I would’ve thought anyone paranoid to even think the question.. Today, its an absolute NO.. Too many weirdos, desperate and angry ppl that are bold enough to act out with the slightest provocation.. The chances are still slim to become a victim, but are your kids worth that risk for a wave ?

    Excellent post and shows how a few decades of societal decay, changes our lives..

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m almost speechless but I shouldn’t be surprised, pedophiles hide behind a catholic robe..It’s really sad that we have to fear so much. My father is a bad man who leads in the church. Shudder..

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Fear is very useful. fear and caution it is old, old-old, built into us for good reason. The world has always been dangerous and the people in it just so. I always laugh when people say dogs always know when people are good people. Um, no. Bad people have dogs who adore them too. But if your children were my children I would not discourage them from waving and smiling – they are safe in the car with you – who knows – those waves and smiles may help someone totally miserable find a little happiness that day. c

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Excellent point you make on how not to judge anyone outright and how evil can be unforeseen. It’s so scary to think about but we must live on, and carry on with good in our hearts and not let the fear overtake us in our thoughts and actions. Fear limits us in ways that suffocate our hopes and dreams for the best possible outcomes and having children, we want them to grow to see the good in people so that they in turn will do good in this world. Hard topic to discuss.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Some people who dress scary are scared themselves but don’t want anyone to know it. And then there are the clowns. My daughter was terrified of clowns when she was a child. Now that I’m not trying to help her overcome that fear, I can see it. Clowns are scary. But now, I’m judging. Sorry, clowns.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I think when my son looks back at this time of his life, what he will remember is me calling out, a million times a day, “Careful!” Easier when it’s about going up/down stairs, trickier when it comes to people. I thought I was a pretty good judge of character but I’ve been proven wrong a lot of times. You just don’t *know* with people. I’m now trying to think of what I can teach my son about it. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting, how evil sneaks up on us with people we know. Part of that is that evil works to disguise itself but I do believe there is a certain bit of “that won’t happen to me” involved, too, a willful denial of what is right in front of us.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Wise story. Fear does rule our lives today, perhaps because we now hear more about it. You are correct in saying that it is the evil that lurks unseen in people, like the man who molested his grandchildren, why? Why oh why would someone do that? Why would someone be cruel to animals or put their partner through abuse? I don`t understand and it makes me hurry back inside to my own world. in my world, everything and everyone are connected, trees, rocks, animals, spirits talk all the time. Sorry, this has really struck a chord with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I appreciate your story. We teach our kids to say Hello to everyone. Should we? We never know if evil is lurking behind a kind smile. I don’t want to know. I don’t want my kids to know. I want them to be aware. That’s more important than a bubbly Hello.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: My Article Read (4-26-2016) – My Daily Musing

  25. Loved this post. This is everything I think about nowadays, inwardly. Because I ride the bus all the time now, and don’t feel I should stare at people. Even though they stare at me. I probably scare a few people. I try not to judge people, but I know I do. Those spacer earring things are never going to be something I understand, even though I live in the Northwest and it’s almost a standard thing here. Anyways, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. See, scary to me has almost always been personified as strange behavior, body language – something not quite right. Yes even at stopsigns etc,,, Years ago it would’ve been a tatted up guy, biker, hell I’m 45 yrs old & born/live in Lancaster, Pa & some simple shits were even afraid/avoided black people WTF!?! Anywayyy,,, (made me think of the movie ‘The Hitcher’ with Rutger Hauer, he was psycho but ‘presented’ well sane)
    *** ‘Be careful who you trust, even the devil was once an angel’

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Being careful and afraid doesn’t make the bogey men go away. Or the bogey women. Live out loud and proud, because of who you are, despite other people. That’s how I’m raising mine, best I can. In the end, though, parenting is a grand experiment.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. It’s interesting, this topic. A friend just asked me recently “How do you do all the things that you do alone, and stay safe?” I thought about it and said “I have a higher statistical probability of dying in a car accident on the way to work than being harmed out doing things that I love.” Those accidents though are not sensationalized, while random acts of violence are. We cannot let fear keep us from living. Because ‘normal’ is not a given anymore (nor ever was, really), we can no longer use our stereotypical internal good/bad monitors with a pass of the eye. It makes quick assessment more difficult, but on the other hand, I think we are learning to dispel visual prejudices faster than any other time in our country’s history.

    Our culture has changed drastically – I won’t judge for good or bad. But our internal cues no longer work as they did for decades. Even then, they were often off, with the badness of some folks plastered over like a new kitchen wall – and we have learned of these things after the face. This takes a change in thinking, and a lot of people just don’t like change. It makes them feel off kilter. We like the known for comfort, and we live in an elastic world that changes boundaries faster than our abilities to process and catalog any more.

    Good write, as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  29. What makes a person scary? The eyes and the mind that behold and judge them, in my experience…

    People have crossed the street to avoid me many times…I don’t think that I’m frightening, but who knows? I don’t scare dogs and small children, so I’m not that bad!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. The world is a very scary place. It gets more and more scary every day. We have to be vigilant. I see this with my grandsons. First they would never talk to strangers or even smile at them. Now they do. Wave at them. Smile at them. Talk to them. We have to be extra careful because nite they are so friendly to strangers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes I think the world cannot possibly be filled with more scary people than there was in years before. Then I remember that evil people have more reach than ever before. So maybe the world is more scary.

      Liked by 1 person

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