"Stay away from that person, they look shady."
"Don't go into that neighborhood, it's sketchy."
Yet, some of my best friends in high school lived in what people referred to as "Sketchy" Neighborhoods.
The best audiences I've had when teaching about water safety were those filled with "shady" people.
Maybe it's just that I'm oblivious to the definition of "shady" and I spend too much time seeing the good in everything, but why should it be a bad thing?
Last year, I walked into a Rome, Georgia community center to teach students from all levels of public schooling to be safe around water.
Then neighborhood was poor. I mean poor. like dirt poor. like you should get the point by now poor. I got stares the second my car pulled into sight.
When I walked in, I got a glare from one mother in particular and I knew what she was thinking. "What is that upper-class white girl doing in this part of town?"
It just so happened that her daughter was in one of my classes that I taught that day. When the classes were finished, the mother came up to me.
She told me the sweetest thing I had ever heard.
"Someone in our family drowned last summer. Ever since then I've been afraid of the water. It got to the point where I wouldn't let any of my kids even think about swimming. You've opened my eyes that I shouldn't fear the water. Best of all, you've done something that I don't think I could have done - you got my kids to stop fearing the water."
After one week of teaching the classes, I learned why the parents looked rough. I also learned that the kids are also just like the parents - treat them with respect and you earn your respect.
I know I could have acted completely different in the neighborhood and came close to getting shot. However, sometimes it's good to be oblivious to that fear.
I'll be honest, I'm not afraid to go into a sketchy neighborhood. I'm not afraid to meet "shady" people. Because something else that I've learned is:
maybe those of us who claim that others are "sketchy" and "shady" are more "sketchy" and "shady" than the ones they label.