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Words from Winterbilt

Diversity, judgments and reality

Shannon Bohrer

(7/2015) Recently my wife and I attended a sporting event in a western state. Prior to the event there was a charity 5K run, which we did not participate (run) in. However, we did work as volunteers for the charity event. Before the event started we were watching the people enter the area. I was eating a sandwich when I noticed a young lady, dressed in a rather odd outfit. If you saw the outfit, you may find my words "rather odd" very kind. The outfit was noticed by many people and when I say noticed, it was not complementary, at least from my perspective. And yet the young lady seemed oblivious, or maybe not, that she was being watched and not in a kind way. Someone close to me said something about the young lady probably not having a mirror, which caused me to almost choke on my sandwich. Possibly, the worst part of the ladies outfit was that while everyone stared at it, they may have missed most of her tattoos and many of her metal piercings, at least the visible ones.

The world is a diverse place and in many ways it is the diversity that makes the world. We often see and hear others that we may not agree with, but tolerance can be a positive trait, if we practice it. While I knew nothing of the ladies character, I judged her strictly from her appearance. Growing up I was told, as most people are told, that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It is one of those little rules that most people can recite, but do we practice it? Maybe we really believe it and just have some exceptions.

The day following the charity race we were with friends and talking about the sporting event and the 5K race. During the conversation the oddly dressed lady was discussed and we all agreed that we really knew nothing about her, but that we all seem to make quick judgments of people. And while we make these judgments, rarely do we ever find out if we were right – or wrong. My wife then commented to our friends about an individual that we know. The individual has excellent character, very responsible and is a trusted person. However, when we first meet him his physical appearance did not match our later opinions of his character. The individuals overall appearance was that of being a biker/gang personage, and as someone once described him: "If I saw him walking in my direction, I would cross to the other side of the road". So we know that looks can be deceiving.

I am sure there are many people that say and believe they are tolerant of others that do not look like them, until someone who does not look like them, annoys them. How does that work? How can someone’s appearance annoy you? How do we say one thing, believing it to be true, and then not act according to our stated beliefs?

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. - Maya Angelou

While at this sporting event in a western state, we took several short road trips with our friends. One of these trips was to an old western town with numerous small artist shops. We were having a nice time, until we encountered a man, his wife (or girlfriend), her baby (very young) and their two dogs. The group appeared to be homeless. The man was pushing a grocery cart, loaded with what appeared to be homeless items, along with two dogs tied to the cart. The woman was walking behind the cart, carrying a very small baby. The man and woman appeared to be very thin, while the baby (what you could see) appeared healthy, but very young. One of the dogs appeared to be of good weight, but the other was definitely malnourished and underweight. The sight of this homeless group seemed to affect our group’s mood for some time. It was difficult to not think of them. An hour or so later, we observed the male subject still with the grocery cart and the two dogs. The young lady and the baby were not there. A local told us that there was a tent camp by a river where the homeless and street people stay. He added that every now and then the police make them move. Then, after a short while, they move back. It was cool and raining at the time, not nice weather to be camping in.

I like to think that if someone wants to be homeless, or by circumstance is homeless, that it is in some way or somehow is part of their decision. I know that’s not entirely true, but that was my thought when seeing this young couple. However, when people make the decision for a baby and or dogs, it seems wrong to me. If we had observed just the man and women, I may not have thought of it so much. Again I knew nothing of this couple but made judgments just on my observations. They could have been very nice people, just down on their luck. Maybe one of them had mental or addiction issues, the fact is I really don’t know. But it was very obvious that the one dog really needed some groceries.

After traveling back to Maryland, the following day I found myself in a curmudgeon waiting room (a doctor’s office) and trying to find a decent magazine to read. Two people sitting next to me were conversing about a photograph on a magazine cover.

The photograph was that of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One subject said something about Justice Ginsburg’s stern look saying she should smile more, and then added multiple poor character references. The other subject agreed then asked who she was. My immediate thought was how dumb can some people be, making judgments of a personal nature, just by looking at a photograph.

Do we make character or personality judgments on appearances? Maybe we just attach our meanings to what we see, without ever giving any considerations to other possibilities. I for one will attempt to improve myself and try to refrain from making judgments just on appearances. However, the young lady that I first saw dressed in a rather odd outfit, you know, the one that did not have a mirror… I do think some of her tattoos were not appropriate for the outfit she was wearing.

Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired. - Robert Kennedy

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer