The importance of characters who have character.

People (c) Jayanta Behera

The world is a messy, complicated, and occasionally ugly place. Bad things happen all the time. Sometimes to “bad” people, sometimes to “good.” The world is also incredibly strange and random. For all the things that are unlikely or even impossible, there’s at least one person on the planet who can prove those odds wrong.

As authors, our job is to look at this mess of crazy, mundane, impossible, scary, cheerful things and try to translate it into a story people can take in and hopefully learn something from. But there’s a problem. Fiction is bound by something reality isn’t: rules and expectations. Readers see the world and measure possible and impossible against the experiences of their own lives. They’ll call you on your BS and point out your inconsistencies and make sure you hold up to the promises you make them. However, they’ll also have a lot of faith and suspend a lot of disbelief if a story captures them, and nothing captures my attention like a truly interesting and powerful character.

This post was born out of finding this link on George Takei’s Facebook page this morning. On Reddit over a year ago, a user (appropriately monikered european_douchebag) took a picture of a woman in an airport and posted it online. Why? Because this woman was wearing her hair wrapped in a turban-like cloth and had a noticeable beard.

Not too long after the post was made on Reddit, the woman in the picture came forward on the site. She didn’t yell, accuse, demand acceptance or apologies, this woman explained and apologized. Apologized! Her name is Balpreet Kaur and this is what she posted in a conversation where many of the commenters were mocking her appearance:

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled 🙂 However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. 🙂 So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. 🙂 I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

How incredible is not only her rational, reasoned response, but her faith? Her strength of character. Her beliefs are obviously bone deep and intense, but not once does she come across as preaching or accusing or belittling others for their own beliefs. She’s strong enough in her religion to accept the faiths of others and allow them their way of life. All she’s asking is that they understand hers.

I would love to meet this girl, but even if that never happens, I’m hoping more characters like her will begin appearing in fiction. If I picked up a book and found someone like Balpreet Kaur living within the pages, I would follow that character through even the most impossible situations and inconsistent seeming realities. Loving a character can convince a reader to forgive a lot and characters with character will convince readers (at least this particular reader) to forgive even more.

On another note, and as further proof for the randomness of this universe, the original poster of this picture read Balpreet’s response, researched the Sikh religion, and came back to her with an incredibly sincere apology. On the internet. Miracles apparently do happen. 

2 thoughts on “The importance of characters who have character.

  1. Erica Cameron

    Isn't she amazing? I like to think I'd be able to respond like that, but I really don't think I would. She's inspiring. Glad you liked! I read that and had to write something up about it.


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