Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South, Second Edition

Cover of Fables of the New South

Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South (ISBN: 978-0-9848913-6-8) is now available in its second edition. Eight stories featuring people who have come to Atlanta, Georgia to reinvent themselves. Portions of these stories appeared on this blog between 2014-2017. Stories include:

  • Mockingbird
  • Journey From Night
  • A Debt to Pay
  • Dead Man’s Hat
  • Remains
  • Bare-Assed Messiah
  • Atomic Punk
  • Phoenix

Selected Reviews, Amazon and Goodreads

“Intriguing, whimsical realism featuring a compelling cast of characters, woven together into a constellation of complex connections…”

“Wonderfully brilliant stories…a rich fabric of Southern culture, with a large city vibe.”

“An author to be on the radar.”

“Lupo is a masterful story writer. “

“Well written and thoughtful.”

Available in print at online booksellers and Kindle from Amazon.

Woman of God

Avis Collins is the minister at the Apostolic Awakening Fellowship, a conservative church in Duluth, Georgia. Known as Mother Avis by her church family, she promotes herself as a black conservative who’s opposed to gay marriage, extra-marital sex, race mixing, and government entitlements. She grew up in a mainstream Methodist congregation, but became a fundamentalist following the fallout within her family from the deaths of their parents. Her church promotes family values and economic empowerment, and, in practice, their philosophy is a curious mixture of feeding the homeless while criticizing them for a lack of initiative, promoting Jesus’s teachings, while encouraging church goers to become entrepreneurs, and welcoming members of all races, just so long as none of them try to intermarry. As of 2011, Avis boasts a following of over four hundred parishioners, and their services are a rousing mixture of amplified Gospel, warm, welcoming fellowship, and fiery rhetoric delivered by Mother Avis.

In the late-00s, Avis’s ministry came under scrutiny when it was discovered that a number of the white parishioners in her majority black congregation were active members of the Klan, drawn by her message of racial separatism. This set off a flurry of news reports locally, with people on all sides of the controversy giving interviews, black congregants who stated they would not share the pew with racists, contrasted with those who said that so long as they mind their manners, all are welcome, versus white members, who tried to minimize the situation, citing Mother Avis’s powerful preaching as the reason for their devotion. It all culminated in Mother Avis giving a well-received interview on Good Morning America, where she remained cheerful and positive, and stated the situation demonstrated, “The power of Christ to unite people of all backgrounds and philosophies.

Still, the church remains controversial, with the IRS constantly questioning their religious exemption, some believing them to be more of a religiously-oriented business rather than the classic definition of a church, given the many products they sell, from essential oils and scented candles, to prayer blankets, videos and recordings of the choir and fellowship band, and others suggesting racial motives for the microscopic level of scrutiny they’re constantly under. Mother Avis tries to remain above the fray, with one notable misstep, where she commented harshly on what she termed as “sodomites” in a news report about the PRIDE Festival in Atlanta, which drew protests from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Following these challenges, the church instituted a public relations fellowship, which clears all requests for statements, and carefully monitors any outgoing missives for content, as well as largely shielding Mother Avis from unscripted press appearances.

One of the church’s harshest critics is a blogger known as Lady Midnight, who not only publishes a weekly column, where she tackles religion, politics, and human rights, and often uses Apostolic Awakening as an example of religious excess, but she also frequently posts disparaging criticisms on the message board at the Apostolic Awakening website. She’s consistently the only negative poster to whom Avis will personally reply, and their sometimes voluminous exchanges often betray not only serious animosity, but also a great deal of familiarity between them. In one such exchange, Avis stated, “You should be grateful the Lord blessed you with the opportunity to be an inspiration to others, rather than the sullen, withdrawn shell of the woman you once were.” While most congregants are either spiritually uplifted or totally befuddled by Mother Avis’s attitude toward this irritant, a few of her closest confidants are aware that Lady Midnight also happens to be Avis’s younger sister, Annabelle, with whom Avis hasn’t spoken directly for more than a decade.

Paralyzed in an automobile accident in Cobb County in 1990, Annabelle turned away from religion during her recovery period, breaking the heart of her minister father, and, in Avis’s view, hastening the deaths of their mother, who suffered a stroke in 1998, and spent the remainder of her life in a vegetative state, and their father, who suffered a massive coronary in 2000. Following their father’s death, Annabelle supported their older brother Alfred’s decision to take their mother off life support, which Avis vehemently opposed. The youngest brother, Avery, a singer, rapper, and actor now based in Los Angeles, who calls himself EZ-AC, eventually sided with Alfred and Annabelle, causing Avis to drop her opposition, and sever all ties with her family. Within a year, she began her ministry in a small storefront in downtown Duluth, and began recruiting members by preaching on street corners.

Voices in Our Heads

voices_in_our_heads_graphic_06-28-16

Somewhere, out on the plains in Africa, just shortly after humans had learned to talk, a tribe got into some sort of trouble and all seemed bleak. Suddenly a man in the tribe heard the voice of his father, who had died years before, instructing him on what to do. He got everyone’s attention and commanded that they do exactly what he told them and by following the instructions he heard, saved his people from certain annihilation. When everyone was safe, he turned his eyes to the sky and said, “Thank you, father!” 

From then on he became the tribe’s counselor and every time the tribe was in trouble, he heard the same voice speaking to him. Sometimes he heard his mother’s voice, soothing him as she’d done when he was a child. As the tribe grew, others began hearing voices which sometimes led them in different directions from the rest. Over time, humans began to realize the voices weren’t coming from outside, but from inside their own heads. Combined with our capacity for memory, they formed the basis of our conscious minds.

I saw an experiment once where researchers were testing to see how much flight was ingrained in the instincts of birds. They placed food at the top of a ramp and a parrot at the bottom. The easiest thing the parrot could have done was fly up to get the food but the parrot walked instead. This led researchers to conclude flight was a recent innovation by birds that was not totally instinctive yet. Of course, this could vary from species to species. In the same way, conscious thought seems to be a recent acquisition by humans, and we’re still learning how best to utilize it.

In his work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes theorizes that early individuals heard auditory hallucinations originating from the developing cerebral cortex which they mistook for the voices of gods. They seemed to come during times of stress and frequently gave innovative solutions to problems encountered by those who heard them. Schizophrenics are a throwback to these early individuals, being unable to recognize the voices as products of their own minds.

The advantage humans have over other creatures is the ability to rationalize thought, to visualize potential outcomes, and to combine information from many different sources to create innovative solutions. Given this, many people still fall into rote patterns of behavior, acting as though their response to whatever the world throws at them is conditioned and beyond their control. Everyone has had a moment when he or she has reacted to a situation in an instinctive manner and quickly regretted doing so. Equally, people recognize certain patterns in their behavior which come into play in stressful or uncertain situations, even though they can often conceive other ways to respond. Creativity often involves listening to the voices in one’s head, sorting out inspiration from noise and acting upon whatever seems most promising, whether writing a paragraph, composing a song, or devising a plan for a more efficient workplace. 

Our intellects are constantly at odds with our instincts, which have the advantage of several billion years head start. We are aware of our instincts, but do not fully understand how they influence our day to day decision making as deeply rooted as they are into our behavior. Humans have shown they have the ability to override the instincts at times, such as when a person’s curiosity causes him or her to investigate some unusual phenomenon, without taking into account the potential danger involved. Unique situations often involve overcoming one’s fears or anxieties and often the reward is worth the risk. Still, despite the creative potential within each person, the number of truly innovative people seems relatively small, and frequently, the most creative are also the most ostracized in society.

The development of conscious thought is what ultimately separated humans from other species on the planet, and the ability to visualize unique solutions to life situations is our greatest strength. While there are other creatures, such as apes and some birds who have demonstrated self-awareness and are adept at creating and using tools, we’ve yet to encounter another species which displays the ability to conceptualize the future in the way we do. With this ability comes responsibility, however, and we should not ignore those voices in our heads which prompt us to follow our better nature. 

 

What Nature Intended 

Butterfly sculpture, Hapeville Train Depot Plaza, Hapeville, GA, artist unknown. Photographed 17 April 2016.

To someone trying to reason out why people behave the way they do, homosexuality may seem like an anomaly. Two men together or two women together cannot produce a child, and since the biological imperative for all creatures on earth seems to be to survive and procreate, homosexuality doesn’t appear to play a role in that. For someone who adheres to a philosophy which states that all life was fashioned in the image of a divine creator, people frequently come to the conclusion that homosexuality is against the design of this creator, and yet, humans are not the only species to exhibit homosexual behavior, we’re just the only ones who constantly obsess over it. Remove divine intent from the equation, and we’re still left with the quandary of figuring out what, if any, evolutionary function homosexuality serves. The problem is we’re most likely still overthinking it.

When discussing human behavior, particularly with regard to sexuality, one often speaks of “what nature intended”, and yet, we rarely speak of this when talking about other natural phenomena. If a region is hit by an earthquake or flood, the people there usually don’t interpret that as nature telling them they don’t belong there, though insurance companies might disagree. It’s only in the realm of human behavior that we assume some divine purpose underlies what we do. Trying to figure out why something happens is usually the first step in figuring out how to prevent something from happening, and more than a few people throughout the world would be happy if homosexuality could be eliminated. The question is why?

One cannot simply look at a person and know that person’s sexuality. Men and women who don’t meet society’s standards for masculinity and femininity still choose mates of the opposite sex, while people who conform to the behaviors assigned by society for that gender sometimes don’t. We have already had instances of very masculine male athletes coming out as gay, and feminine models and actresses announcing they’re lesbians. As homosexuality becomes less stigmatized in society, we’ll undoubtedly have more instances of this. We don’t even need high profile illustrations, since pretty much everyone knows someone they thought was or wasn’t gay up until the time that person started dating someone of the same or opposite sex. As with many things in nature, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. It’s society and culture that typically complicates things and we’re responsible for developing and maintaining those.

In patriarchal societies, fathers or other male relatives choose how women will be joined with their mates, and often the strongest and most influential men get first choice, surprise, surprise. In much of nature, however, it’s the female of the species which makes that choice, and the males must put on elaborate displays to attract the attention of willing partners. If one sees a pair of red birds, for instance, the one most brilliantly arrayed is the male, and among songbirds, it’s often the males who sing elaborate songs in order to attract mates. In cultures which tend to be matriarchal, we also see this behavior in humans, males prancing and preening in makeup and brightly colored costumes to attract the attention of their intended brides. Given the vastly different roles played by males and females in reproduction, particularly with mammals, it makes more sense for the female to choose, since she’s taking the greater risk in getting pregnant. Even in patriarchal societies we see vestiges of this, fathers choosing their daughters’ husbands based on who will best provide for them, or which tribal alliances will best insure their survival.

So, what did nature intend in creating homosexuality? Most likely nothing. With regard to biology, nature is a usually a passive force which sometimes gives a species mutations that have no effect on survival unless conditions exist that make that mutation an advantage. The way a given species reproduces is the result of billions of years of evolution and the fact that different species have vastly different methods of reproduction suggests no specific plan was in place from the start. One might argue that homosexuality is one of the curbs nature puts in place to control population growth, but this ignores two important facts. First, the percentage of homosexuals in society appears to remain constant while the population gets larger. Second, and more importantly, people who are homosexual are still capable of having children. Neither the ability nor the desire to have children is affected by one’s sexual preference. True, there are many homosexuals who don’t want children, but there is probably an equal percentage of heterosexuals who also don’t want children. If there is a curb, it’s probably more the lack of desire to reproduce rather than the type of relationship one is in.

Societal prohibitions against homosexuals focus almost exclusively on male homosexuality. Leviticus 18 forbids men from having sex with other men and says nothing about women. It’s not until much later that admonitions for women were added to Jewish law. It’s likely the restriction was put in place because this was behavior observed in cultures with whom the ancient Israelites interacted. It’s known that the ancient Greeks practiced homosexuality, though the specific cultural context is probably lost to us today. It would seem then, that the prohibition has less to do with protecting families or society than with controlling a specific type of male behavior.

Throughout human populations, rape is often a powerful weapon employed in asserting control over other individuals or groups of people. Despite its sexual nature, rape is not about sex, but about demonstrating one’s dominance over another person. In Western society, males who are raped by other males carry a higher stigma than females who’ve been raped, and boys who’ve been sexually abused often receive more attention than girls. Aside from totally ignoring or flippantly dismissing rape allegations by women, authorities take male rape very seriously, believing it diminishes the man’s masculinity. One rarely hears someone dismiss allegations of rape by one man against another with the phrase, “Boys will be boys” though statistics from prisons and other male-dominated endeavors tell a different story. Despite the fear mongering by anti-gay activists, men who rape other men often do not identify as homosexuals, since, again, rape is not about sexuality, but control.

So, it seems the real culprit is not human sexuality, but the need by humans to exert control over others, and that is a perversion of the survival instinct, since those who control the resources have a better chance to survive than those who don’t. We see, in parts of Africa where water and other natural resources are scarce, the highest level of strife, as populations are constantly at odds to try to claim those resources. In the Balkans, while the Soviet Union was still in place, people of different ethnicities lived side by side with relatively little conflict, but once the stabilizing influence of an authoritarian regime was removed, ethnic cleansing soon followed. The challenge for us is not to eliminate homosexuality from existence, since its presence in and of itself has not proven detrimental to the health and welfare of a given society. Rather it’s to overcome the need for humans to exert dominance over their environment and fellow individuals, which has been shown to hinder growth and development, bringing about such atrocities as wartime sexual violence and genocide, and leading to such repressive regimes as Apartheid-era South Africa. Our focus, then, should not be on those who wish to lead contented lives with partners they desire, but rather those who’ll stop at nothing to prevent them.

Free Will

 
A central tenet at the heart of many philosophies and religions is the notion of free will and how much it guides our daily existence. Are we free to choose our own course in life, or have our lives been written ahead of time by some unseen heavenly entity and we are merely following a script created before we were born? We must also question the idea of free will within the context of human behavior and the extent to which it is guided by our instincts rather than our intellect. The survival instinct, common to all creatures on earth, has two imperatives, survive and procreate, neither of which is dependent upon the higher brain functions necessary for the exercise of free will. Earthworms, for example, don’t appear to contemplate the existence of a higher being, yet have managed to survive, largely unchanged, for several million years.

One aspect of free will arises from the struggle between our instincts and our intellect, and the instincts have several billion years head start on the intellect. The instincts are like our autopilot, telling us, among other things, to eat, to sleep, to run away when there’s trouble, and to seek a suitable mate when the time is right. In most cases, when one finds himself or herself acting in a manner which can’t be explained logically, the instincts are often the culprit. Humans choose to view themselves as rational beings, guided by logical reasoning when, in reality, we’re driven by an instinct to survive just like every other creature on earth; find shelter, find food, eliminate the competition, and insure the survival of our genetic heritage at all costs. The effect humans are having on the environment and other species demonstrates how adept we’ve become at following this script. 

At the same time, humans have built a civilization based on laws which attempt to curtail the animal instincts and insure all people have the opportunity to benefit from the earth’s resources. Such laws often rely on compromise, and, in many cases, coercion to keep people in check. While these laws are founded upon the belief humans are essentially moral beings, it’s been my observation that humans are not huge fans of artificially imposed rules and regulations, and what stops many people from acting badly is the threat of legal retribution from society or moral retribution from a higher power. 

When the established order is overthrown, even temporarily, people are capable of hideous atrocities. We see evidence of this in riots following sporting victories when fans take to the streets for the flimsiest of provocations and create significant chaos and loss of property. When the stakes are higher, such as when people are fighting against social injustices, the reaction is even more violent, yet even when the cause of the initial conflict is justifiable, individuals still use the resulting chaos as a cover for crimes unrelated to the cause of the initial violence. Humans are opportunistic beings and look for every opportunity to turn off their higher reasoning even for a few hours. If one were to ask these people afterward why they behaved as they did, they most likely would not be able to offer a logical explanation.

For Christianity and its predecessor Judaism, Genesis, chapter three, tells of the fall of man which led to the acquisition of free will. In this account, the god YHWH has created a paradise in the form of a garden, in which the man and woman, sometimes identified as Adam and Eve, live happy lives, totally devoid of all the frustrations that accompany higher consciousness. They are given just one rule, don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. YHWH is so adamant about this rule that the stated punishment for disobedience is death. A serpent tricks the woman into sampling the fruit and she convinces the man to try it. Both immediately gain awareness, signaled by the fact they realize they’re naked.

From the account in Genesis, it is clear that YHWH does not know that the man and woman have eaten of the tree before observing their behavior and questioning them. It is also obvious that YHWH had no foreknowledge of what the man and woman were about to do and simply relied on the threat of retribution to keep them away from the tree. This portrayal of God brings up a crucial factor in whether or not humans are free in cosmic terms to chart their own course in life, that is, whether or not our destinies are known or determined by a higher power.

It would appear that the notion of free will is at odds with a belief in an all-knowing and all-seeing God. Such an entity is said to know us better than we know ourselves, which presupposes that this entity already knows the decisions we will make. If so, the concept of free will is simply not feasible. For those who will attempt to refute this argument, the question is, can God be surprised by our actions? If not, this implies our actions are pre-determined by God and we do not have free will. If God can be surprised, then God cannot be all-knowing and all-seeing.

If everything is predetermined by God, as many religions and philosophies hold, then we can conclude from this that everything is already working the way God designed it. All the debates about God’s will are irrelevant because we’re already living according to God’s plan. The outcome is already programmed into the equation and nothing we do will change it. If, as I believe, the outcome is not predetermined, then God is neither all-seeing, nor all-knowing, and humans have the free will to determine their own course in the universe. The entity we call God is just as uncertain of how it will end as we are. 

I believe the future is being written as we live it and no force in the universe knows the outcome. We are, therefore free to choose our own course, but only if we’re able to come to terms with how much our lives are still guided by our instincts. It has been shown that humans do have the capacity to overcome our basic biological needs when necessary. We can choose if and when we eat, and, when given the proper guidance and resources, whether or not to procreate, and the fact that humans are at times willing to sacrifice their lives on behalf of others demonstrates we can even overcome the ultimate biological imperative when circumstances dictate. Still, much of our behavior is controlled by forces often unnoticed or not acknowledged by us and this is the chief argument against free will. We need to come to a better understanding of how our biology affects us and fortunately, we have the capacity to do just that. If we can become more conscious of the forces influencing our behavior, then perhaps we can, at last, truly take control of our destinies.

Failing, to Succeed 

I have a saying, “Hank Aaron didn’t hit a home run every time.” It’s my way of reminding myself that for every success, there are a thousand less than perfect outcomes. In fact, failure is much more common than success. The term “trial and error” best sums up the practice of implementing a strategy, observing the positive and negative effects, and modifying procedures until the desired results are achieved. The founders of the United States didn’t get things right the first time with the Articles of Confederation, and it took a Civil War to work out issues left over from ratifying the Constitution.

The old saying goes that one learns more from failure than success, but this is mainly because one learns from failure, versus getting something right the first time. Failure causes one to evaluate what went wrong, to examine the process and make improvements, and to “try harder” on the next attempt. In the process the brain gets rewired, and changes in attitude and behavior happen that can’t be reversed. One who succeeds without much effort or “coasts” on talent alone is no better or worse for the experience, whereas the person who fails a time or two (or more) and works on improving himself or herself changes with each attempt, becoming more knowledgeable and better skilled as he or she masters the endeavor. Orson Welles, in his Hollywood debut, produced what has been heralded as the greatest movie ever filmed, and never fully lived up to his potential again, ending his career shilling wine on television. Lasting success often comes to those not immediately appreciated for their talents.

George Washington wasn’t highly regarded by his superiors as a young officer in the Colonial militia, and as a general, his favorite tactic was strategic retreat. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, but, fortunately, didn’t let that stifle his creativity. Penicillin came about because Alexander Fleming used a petri dish contaminated with mold spores. Joanne Rowling was a recently divorced single mother with serious financial problems, who spent her free time in a coffee shop working on the draft of what would become the first Harry Potter novel. Failure and the disappointment that comes with it often makes eventual success all the more rewarding.

The book Rejection by John White chronicles numerous instances where authors, filmmakers, and other public figures have endured times when their work was not recognized by critics, publishers, or the public at large. In one instance, a poet, Lee Pennington, submitted a work to a magazine and received the response, “This is the worst poem in the English language. You are the worst poet in the English language.” Undaunted, he submitted it to another magazine, which published it and named it best poem of the year. Learning to deal with disappointment is the most important lesson one can learn, because we’re more likely to be disappointed than satisfied. Accepting that failure is not the end of the world is often the first step in becoming a success.

That being said, it is, by no means easy to deal with failure, and the grander the scale, the more difficult it becomes to overcome the feelings that go with it. There is a tendency among people to personalize every interaction. Often times, when something negative happens to someone, the first instinct is for the person to wonder what he or she did to cause it. Usually, such feelings have little basis in reality. I was once run off the road by another driver who pulled out in front of me unexpectedly. In the immediate aftermath, I questioned why I had been in the lane I’d been in. After a moment, though, I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, my first instinct had been to blame myself for what had happened. When we fail, it’s always a challenge to keep believing we’re capable of accomplishing the task at hand, but those who best overcome failure are those best positioned to succeed.

Sometimes, failure does result from individual limitations. A person with no athletic ability is not very likely to become a world-class tennis or soccer star, regardless of how much effort goes into the pursuit. Everyone has talent in some form or another, however, and sometimes it’s just a matter of recognizing and nurturing that talent. James Boswell, biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, had a talent for bringing interesting people together and chronicling what happened afterward. Learning to be resourceful in the face of defeat gives one the potential to eventually succeed. We’re always going to have difficulties. It’s how we face them that makes all the difference.

Minds of Their Own

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I saw a film talking about Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which contained a quote from Ibsen on why Nora leaves at the end. While I don’t recall the exact quote, he essentially said that once he knew the character, he knew leaving was her only course of action. At the time, I recall disagreeing, believing that since he was the writer, he could make the characters do whatever he wanted. I now have a clearer understanding of what he meant.

When I was working on my novel The Long-Timers, which is the basis for my current series The Long-Timer Chronicles, my intention was for Charles and Renee Fox, a couple who have been married for more than eleven hundred years, and who were once members of Shakespeare’s acting troupe, to be the main characters. I also created a secondary character, who was murdered by someone posing as Jack the Ripper, who would come back to life and provide a subplot for the main story about the Foxes. Once I started writing, the character who started out as Vickie Seely and became Victoria Wells, began to grow and develop until she completely took over the whole story. Charles and Renee are still very important characters, and the focus of the second book in my series, called Crazy Like the Foxes, but in the original novel, Victoria Wells was definitely the main character and the main focus of the book. She’s also one of my favorite characters that I’ve created.

Writing is a process of discovery for the writer, and as a work progresses, the characters sometimes take on minds of their own. This was certainly the case with Victoria, who started out as a victim, but grew into a strong and independent woman perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Charles and Renee are, largely, the way I initially envisioned them, but since I started with a blank slate with Victoria, she grew along with the novel and finding new facets of her character was one of the great joys of writing the book. What I ended with was certainly not what I imagined when I began writing, and I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

The same has been true of other characters I’ve created. In my full length play, Rebecca, Too, which started out as a script for a short film that was never produced, the title character of Rebecca didn’t even appear in the earliest draft I wrote. When I sat down to expand the short script into a full-length play, I had a lot of notes I’d written on what Rebecca does, but not who she is. As she developed, her character took on new and sometimes dark aspects, all part of becoming a fully formed individual — on paper at least. As writers, we should not be afraid to let our characters become who they should become. We should abandon our preconceptions and constantly ask ourselves is this action true to who he or she is and are there aspects I’m missing?

I would imagine the process is akin to becoming a parent. When a child is born, parents have ideas about how they’d like the child to develop, or the type of person he or she should grow into. As the child matures, however, new aspects of his or her character may emerge the parent wasn’t expecting. The challenge is knowing when to intervene, to correct potentially damaging behaviors or attitudes, and when to step back and allow the child to discover his or her own path in life. This notion is tied to the general human tendency to categorize and define those with whom we associate, making judgments on how a person thinks and feels, based solely on his or her outward behavior. Scratch the surface and a completely different individual may emerge, which is why someone can have a friend one has known since childhood, without ever realizing that person enjoys ballroom dancing or can speak multiple languages.

As a writer, one should never be afraid to explore aspects of a character that diverge from one’s initial notion of who the character is. As a person, one should never simply assume that those with whom one associates share the same beliefs or have the same attitudes as oneself. Sometimes friendship or courtesy may dictate that another person hides aspects of his or her character, believing them to be uncomfortable or potentially disruptive to the friendship. The challenge for us, as individuals, is to be willing to see those we call friends as they truly are, not simply as we would like them to be. While we may learn truths we find discomforting, we may also be laying the groundwork for an even deeper and more meaningful friendship. We all have minds of our own. We should learn to appreciate the fact that those around us do as well and not be afraid to look beyond the outward facade. Who knows what we might discover?