“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Such an old, tired cliche, and one that has very nearly lost all meaning. Sure, we pull it out from time to time, and make ourselves feel like it is a new revelation… but does anyone actually live by it? From what I can see – both online and in the world around me – judging books by covers is not just still present, but very much alive and well.
A few weeks ago, I saw a comment on a blog from someone who said that in his mind, tattoos automatically mar a person’s inner beauty. Now, I’m well aware that people feel that way, but having two tattoos myself (and I’m just getting started ) the words still stung. It’s one thing to have an opinion…. to not personally care for tattoos or dreadlocks or piercings or whatever… but to actually just look at a person, to see only their outer shell, and then make a decision about who they must be inside? That’s a problem.
Last weekend, we did one of my very favorite things and went downtown to catch a Diamondbacks game. They would lose, 5-0, but we didn’t know that yet. We parked at our favorite $5 lot a few blocks from the stadium, and had walked most of the way there when we passed a homeless man sitting against a lamppost. He looked to be in his 60′s, his skin dark and weathered from the Phoenix sun, and had nothing with him save for a hand-written sign that said simply, “Food.”
Living in a city this size, we see homeless people often. I would never say I’ve gotten used to it – because I think we’re in trouble if we ever get used to such a thing – but it’s far from an unusual sight, especially in that part of town. But here’s what I noticed on Friday night:
As we walked, we were sharing the sidewalk with two kids in their 20′s. They looked… well, they looked like you’d expect two young people who’d just come out of a pub on a Friday night in downtown Phoenix to look. They were tattooed. They looked somehow totally chilled out and restless all at the same time. Their pants were so low that I could very nearly see the bottom seam on their plaid boxers, and they were doing that weird waddle-walk that I’m assuming is necessary to keep them up.
“Are you hungry?” They’d stopped in front of the homeless man just as we all passed. “Here, take this.” One of the young men handed him his plastic take-out container from the pub. “We’ll bring you back some hotdogs, in case you’re still hungry later. Bless you, brother,” he said as they walked away, and I lost sight of them as we all merged with the sea of people getting ready to enter the stadium.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Was there anything different about what they’d done than if they’d been well-dressed businessman in their 40′s? Well, no. A kindness is a kindness. But the thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about – the thing that made me sad – was that just because they do happen to look a certain way, they likely have to work even harder to disprove people’s preconceptions. That they have to know that, just like that blog comment all those weeks ago, that there are going to be people who take one look at them and decide that they’re not as beautiful on the inside. That they’re somehow less than. Somehow less likely to be kind. Somehow less likely to be giving. Somehow less likely to be good.
And I think that if we’re being honest, we’ve all had or have something in this area that we can work on… some preconceived notion of how a person should be or think or act just because of the way they look. And while I’ll never know who those kids were from the game, I’d like to thank them for reminding me once again that we need to knock it off. Like, yesterday.
My kids are so naturally great at this. So loving. So accepting of differences. I don’t want them to grow up in a world where it’s okay to think that anybody is “less than” just because of the way he looks. That it’s okay to make a decision about somebody based on the way they dress, or the color of their hair, or the fact that they express themselves through piercings or tattoos. I want them to know that a person isn’t more or less likely to be a good and kind soul just because of their outer packaging.
Unfortunately, yes, it’s a truth that sometimes people do bad things. Oh but so very, very many people are good.
And until they’ve shown us otherwise through their actions, shouldn’t we be giving everyone the benefit of the doubt?