Monday, February 25, 2013

Don't Assume You "Know" Someone Just Because of their Skin Color (or Eyebrows)

TV's J.R. Ewing: would you really trust those eyebrows?

What lens do you use to look at people when it comes to deciding what kind of person they are? That is, how do you decide who someone really is, especially when first meeting them? It's true that groups of people seem to possess certain similar characteristics. At least they do on the surface. Like most folks, I pride myself on being fair-minded and slow to jump to conclusions regarding how someone appears to be based on outward appearances. But sometimes I find myself unwittingly wearing ‘glasses’ that make me look at people in ways that ultimately leave me feeling like Boo Boo the Fool.
               One day a long while back, I needed to store my belongings for a time at one of those storage rental places. Helping me check in at the front desk was a pleasant elderly lady. She held a warm smile and kindly demeanor. As we conducted business, I noticed the man at the desk behind her. As I examined him, I made several grave assumptions. Like the woman at the desk, he was elderly and I assumed he was the business owner. His hair was gray and thinning. He also had bushy eyebrows that grew in a way that gave him a rather sinister look. He was on the phone and judging from his clipped tone, his snarly expression and those eyebrows, I was certain he was not a pleasant person.
               Around his desk space and on the wall was golf memorabilia. There were photos of him with golf celebrities, golf tees, golf balls, and other trappings that I presumed were souvenirs of country club living. Those items, combined with my perception of him based on the way his eyebrows were arched like the bad guys in movies, reinforced my initial impression of him. I grew convinced he was prejudiced against black people. He hadn’t uttered a word to me or even looked my way, but he didn’t have to. After all, those menacing eyebrows… Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Okay, so maybe they weren't this bushy. But still...
               When he got off the phone, he muttered to himself, “Dang pushy salesman.” Then he looked my way and did something I'll never forget: he smiled. It was one of the most kindly expressions I've ever received. He rose from behind the desk and, eyebrows and all, stepped to the counter to introduce himself. Of course, I was stunned. As I listened to him talk with me about how he and his wife managed the storage facility, I silently struggled in my mind, trying to come to terms with who this man really was.
               I worked to hide my embarrassment as he shared with me what used to be one of his greatest passions: golf. After a few minutes of his praising the sport and diminishing his own level of play, he began proudly sharing how he used to volunteer at pro and semi-pro golf tournaments that happened annually in the community.
               Those eyebrows still were a major distraction but I listened. Then his face grew dark. A-ha, I thought mentally; here it comes. Of course, I was wrong again.
               “They used to treat me like dirt,” he said almost at a whisper. “The golfers acted like prima donnas and I was less than nothing.” He fingered at the counter. “Here I was in awe of them and all they could do was complain about the service they received.”
               It’s easy to be fooled by superficial things like skin color, manner of dress, the way a person speaks. Or evil eyebrows. So next time you feel yourself judging someone based on assumptions, stop.

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