Today, I watched a woman shop lift.
I preface this with, yes, I did nothing and let it happen, this is not a post about my morals or actions, this woman’s story (or how I perceive it) is merely a catalyst for conversation.
I was in a local market (or grocery store if you’re not from California) and needed to toss a cup into a trashcan, passing by the very prominent Seahawks merchandise section. I thought no one was around me, so the loud zipper noise that seemed to come out of nowhere startled me. I discreetly looked around and saw a woman crouched behind a shelf, closing her backpack after stuffing a jersey into it. I shook my head, made an immediate and gut judgement and walked back to my husband. I said nothing, shook my head, and focused on my own groceries. When she stood from behind the shelf and quickly looked around herself before exiting the store with her now bulging backpack of goodies I did nothing. Then my mind started to analyze what it had just seen.
It made me wonder, why? What had tempted, coerced, or forced this woman to steal. Was she down on her luck? She looked well enough dressed and groomed, clean hair, nails, and clothing. Did she REAlly need the jersey? Maybe her home life was hostile, a controlling spouse who holds the pursestrings so tight she felt forced to steal just to exhibit control over help life. Maybe she was a single Mom of a bunch of kids and one of them had a birthday coming up and she couldn't afford a gift even with working two jobs and welfare. Either way, who was I to judge her?
The way we interact and perceive people speaks more about us than them in the long run. In this case I felt pity for this other human being, that for whatever reason, felt the need to commit this act of thievery. Again, whatever the reason, she felt it was warranted.
Isn’t this the same conversation writers, film directors, and photographers always have about their “villainous” characters, history is in the eyes of the teller. Maybe this woman just completed a long, drawn-out, divorce that left her near penniless, she’s not the villain, her husband is. To the market manager who will be reprimanded for the miss-matched stock maybe the thief is the villain. Who knows. All we can do as both members of society and writers, is to trust our characters, walk a mile in their shoes, see what drives them, motivates them, and use the knowledge gained to make better -richer- stories.
Seeing this woman shoplift inspired me, don’t judge me for that, don’t judge her like I did. Focus on the fact that something good came from the experience I witnessed. This blog, and maybe... my next character?
Who knows. It all depends on whose side you’re reading.