“No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is.” – Irvin Himmel
“Clothes make the man.” My friend Rod and I used to have an ongoing discussion about this old saying back in high school. At the time, we were in an interesting phase where most of the clothes we wore came from our dad’s closets or thrift stores, which I assume sparked the debate. If I remember correctly, Rod’s argument was that clothes do make the man because perception dictates that people will judge you by your appearance. Rod wasn’t necessarily saying that the adage was fair, but that it was true nonetheless. I argued that having that perception is shallow, that people should be valued based upon action rather than appearance, therefore clothes do not, in fact, make the man. Now, almost 20 years later, I’ve come to the realization that we were both right.
As unfortunate as it is, we tend to make snap judgments on people before we can possibly know them. We make sweeping generalizations about groups of people based on how they look. We gossip in our little, comfortable circles and make disparaging remarks about the way people dress. My question is this: why do we care? Of what importance is another person’s appearance to us? What effect does the way someone looks have on our lives?
Seriously, why do we care? Call it hyper-sensitivity, but I can’t stand to have people comment on how I am dressed because it doesn’t matter. However, when I’ve worn a flannel shirt, I’ve been called a lumberjack. When I’ve worn a pink shirt, I’ve counted over 30 comments made about it in an eight hour work day. Today, I’m wearing a red and blue striped shirt. In my first half hour at work, I was called Freddy Krueger, Waldo and a rugby player. I’ll admit to being sensitive. It annoys me. And, I wasn’t necessarily always being picked on or put down, but the fact that folks feel inclined to discuss my appearance at all is bothersome to me. That said, I truly bring it up to show just how eager we are to make note of appearances. In flannel, pink, or red and blue stripes, literally nothing about me has changed. If anything, when we call out inconsequential things about people, it serves only to demean, and generally makes others feel self-conscious. More to the point, it points directly to insecurities we harbor about ourselves.
So, two things here: First, like your mother probably told you when you were four years old, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Zip it. Second, we have to get beyond a primitive mindset where we determine value by appearance. Look beyond the way someone looks and try to find out who they are and what they have to offer. It’s easy to make fun and ignore. Everyone has value. Be an advocate for human beings. Seek people out rather than shunning them for silly reasons.
Books aren’t and shouldn’t be defined by their cover. Next time, before you decide to comment on the way someone looks, stop and ask yourself this question: “Why do I care?”
Have an awesome Friday,