I’ve been browsing my bookshelves this morning…yes, real bookshelves. As much as I love my Kindle and my Nook and all the ebooks between the two, I still cherish “real” books, as well. Each book on my shelf brings back memories of who I was when I read — or wrote — it. I often enjoy re-reading books, even ones I’ve written, and each time I do, I learn new things about myself. I see characters differently; their experiences affect me in different ways. Quite simply, I’m not the same person, so my reaction to a story won’t be the same as before.
I find that fact to be interesting and intriguing. It’s rather thought-provoking to realize that fictional characters can grow and change as our perceptions change.
What’s perhaps even more thought-provoking, though, is how often we fail to accept growth and change in people around us — not fictional characters, but friends, family members, loved ones. Funny, isn’t it, how our perceptions of an individual can become so rigid that we won’t let them change.
These thoughts were prompted as I scanned the romance novels on the shelf. My gaze fell upon Once an Outlaw by Jill Gregory. It’s the story of young Emily Spoon. Uncle Jake’s been released from jail. He and the boys swear they’ll go straight. But can Emily believe them? No one else seems willing to trust Jake and his sons, and soon Emily, too, sees evidence that her outlaw uncle has gone back to his old ways. As the saying goes, once an outlaw, always an outlaw.
That’s how it begins. We get an idea into our heads, and sure enough, before long we’ll start seeing evidence to support our beliefs. At least, that’s how it looks to us. Actually, all we’re seeing are the labels we’ve affixed to situations — or, more likely, to the people involved.
We expect outlaws to behave like outlaws. We expect the rowdy kid next door to cause trouble. We expect that no-account, spendthrift cousin of ours to come around begging for money.
Maybe we get so caught up in our expectations that we can’t see beyond them. We can’t believe Cousin Sam would actually drop by just to visit. We can’t accept the idea of that rowdy kid ever offering to help. He must have have some ulterior motive if he volunteers, right? Just like Sam ‘s probably just waiting for the right moment to take us aside to try to mooch a few bucks.
Yep. Once an outlaw…once a rowdy kid… once a worthless, no-account spendthrift… whatever the label, it’s too often permanently attached.
In Not the Marrying Kind, my newest historical romance from Secret Cravings Publishing, hero Joshua Barron knows all too well how it works:
Once a man—or even a boy—got tagged as a trouble-maker, a law-breaker, or any one of a half-dozen other labels the legal authorities liked to bandy about, he’d find himself surrounded by suspicions wherever he went. His life would be lived in the shadows of the doubts people had about him.
What about “good” labels? Isn’t it helpful, perhaps, to affix positive labels on people?
Maybe. Certainly it’s better to label an individual as clever or intelligent rather than dim-witted or slow, but there’s another lesson Joshua’s learned in his life. He knows that good intentions sometimes lead to bad outcomes.
Instead of making labels and sticking them on everyone we meet, how about dealing with each individual and each situation in the moment? Instead of basing our perceptions on what’s gone before, or on what we expect to come in the future, why don’t we enjoy whatever the moment brings?
I know I’ve changed a lot over the years. I imagine you’ve changed, too. Everybody changes. If we’d be more willing to accept changes in others, we might be surprised by the results.
What do you think?