Will Call: Don’t judge a book by its cover
It’s is one of those oft repeated but rarely heeded axioms.
Even literally, it’s a lot to ask. Faced with thousands of titles in a bookstore or library, a prospective reader is bound to look to titles and illustrations for some sense of which ones might be worth a peek at the dust jacket or the first page.
Similarly, faced with a daily onslaught of strangers, we naturally seek to glean what we can from someone’s expression, attire, mannerism and the like. We learn to communicate the same way, so our assumptions are sometimes even accurate.
Most often, though, you miss a lot at first glance. Think of anyone you know well and consider how much of their personality you could glean if you passed them on the sidewalk, or even exchanged pleasantries on a bus. Of course you can’t know everyone that well, but sometimes we think we know more than we do.
For example, one of the folks on my recent canyon orientation course has a plethora of tattoos, piercings, dreadlocks and a big beard. He also happens to be one of the cooler, kinder people I’ve met and someone I’d be glad to have at my back in almost any situation. I was thus disappointed to hear that folks have a tendency to glare at him when he’s out in public.
Indeed, I could sense the confusion when we stopped for lunch in Moab with such an assorted, friendly group all swapping milkshakes indiscriminately. At one table alone, there was the guy with an Inigo Montoya hairstyle and a rasta panda hat, a gal with her blonde hair up behind a sweatband, an introspective looking bespectacled redhead, our oldest member with stubble, shades and a baseball cap, and me in a collared shirt and slacks.
Before I get too sentimental about this egalitarian experience, let’s back up to the previous night. Sitting around the campfire discussing our place in the world and the direction of our civilization, one of the aforementioned folks observed that most people wouldn’t talk about this stuff. The rest agreed, but I beg to differ.
See, judgment cuts both ways. If you present yourself as an eccentric, you’re likely to be shunned, but if you follow all the rules, you might get dismissed as a sheep. Consequently, there’s a very real possibility that most people go around thinking that they’re the only odd one — for better or for worse — in a world of normals.
Get a group of random people around a campfire or stargazing in a hot springs, though, and that veil falls away. It turns out, at least in my experience, that most people are worried about where things are going and are insecure about their own path. My job gives me myriad glimpses at strangers’ lives, and I have yet to meet anyone who is exactly what they seem.
To treat them as if they are is to do them and yourself a disservice.
Will Grandbois wonders what people think of him on first sight. He can be reached at 384-9105 or email@example.com.
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