My late husband had this awful habit of generalising about people and putting their personas into little boxes, He had some amazing descriptions for them with quite clever titles.
Some would amuse me and others I would find myself cringing at the thought that one day someone will hear him and take offence. A particular favourite of his was ‘Knit your own Muesli Community drama workshop type. This title he attached to anyone who was either a vegan, smoked roll-ups, wore a hippy dress and grew herbs. When we moved from London to a small village in Somerset, I had to make him drop the phrase otherwise we would never make any new friends.
There is more to folk when you start digging. Trying not to argue with him, as diplomacy dictated, he had a way of reacting to first impressions and sticking to them, I like to ponder, there is more to folk when you start digging. First impressions can lead us to be judgemental however, I must admit I do find myself making the same assumptions about people especially when they portray themselves by what they wear, what they watch on TV, and what they eat.I guess I am not so verbal and descriptive as my late husband was. Recently I have become a bit of health freak following years of being an overweight food junkie. My husband would have had a title for me, I am sure. As with anything I do, I jump in with 100% enthusiasm and probably bore the living daylights out of my friends and family as it becomes the topic of my only conversation. (Apologies) So yes, I made changes. The hardest part of it all was making that decision to change but once on the journey, it consumed my thoughts and changed my life in many ways for the better. It also made me view other people in a different light as I learned to question some of my delusional justifications to how I felt about myself.
I now find myself sitting in restaurants and worrying about the man opposite, tucking into his burger and chips, his beer half-drunk and his shirt buttons clinging on to his stretching shirt covering his belly. My thoughts are of distaste as I start to assume he is doing this on purpose just to annoy me as I tuck into my fresh green salad. I note his packet of cigarettes tucked tightly into his shirt and also assume in a moment he will light up and puff his disgusting smoke over me.
These are my thoughts, even though I once used to smoke and also had clothes that didn’t fit me. I have already put him into a box and have convinced myself he is lazy, out of control, probably opinionated and not nice to his wife. I do not know him from Adam. For all I know, this man may be very unhappy, and possibly a brain surgeon with a degree in compassion and care in the community.
A word to myself, stop judging people for how they look, but let us be honest here, do we not all do that? We do, and I doubt if we will ever change no matter how compassionate society tells us to be. We all carry bad thoughts fuelled by our first impressions, we assume people are certain types and put them into little boxes. If we took the time to look behind the facades of people, I wonder what we would discover? As someone who loves to write and listen to peoples stories I practice looking at people in cafe’s and try to imagine their lives beyond the first impression, their exterior is portraying. I catch a glimpse of me in a reflection of a shop window and wonder what people see of me now.
My mother used to recite this part of the above poem to me, and I understood what she wanted to instil in me. she was a wise old soul. When I was overweight and very unhappy with the state of my health, I asked myself if people were looking at me with distaste. They probably were, to a stranger I was probably a nice lady with a nice smile, but totally out of control, lazy and daft and talked too much. I struggled to stay confident and portrayed an ‘I don’t care attitude’ but seriously, I did care, I did. So, I draw on my compassion and my thoughts turn to sadness, I wish I could help that man sitting opposite me but I cannot, I want to tell him he could feel so much better if he made changes and people like me would not slot him into boxes of first impressions. He will not listen to me, he has to learn to look truly inwards to seek the change he probably desires but won’t admit to. If I took the time to get to know him I could better understand him. I feel compassion and I wonder, if I could reach his thoughts, could I stop the probability of him having a stroke or any other disease related to obesity, smoking or general bad health? His appearance tells me he is heading that way. It is not just about health issues but so many parts of society. Career people, politicians, do-gooders, vegetarians, single parents, teachers, we all pop them into boxes and are quick to judge usually based on their imperfections. One thing is for sure, I would prefer to be slotted into the crazy health freak box than the one I have put this poor man into. You have to tell yourself there is a box you will fit into that will let society see you as a certain type. I believe I have been slotted into various. The knack is to see yourself as others see you. If you do not like the title of the box then get out and start showing how you want people to see you. It is called aspiring to change. Be who you truly want to be, keep with truth and hopefully you will be seen for who you closely are. Look at yourself, if you like what you see then others will too if you don’t then draw on that difficult task of changing. It is not easy but it is challenging and when you achieve it, the feeling is like pure gold. I believe what matters is who you are on the inside, unfortunately, people start with first impressions and it is the exterior of your life that people see and slot into place whether you like it or not. There is no point in having a brilliantly written book inside the wrong and mis-leading cover. I used to tell myself I did not care about what other people think of me. Part of that is still true. Allowing people to see the real you is a skill of opening up and showing confidence. Some of us want to hide away and live solitary in a cave., however, human beings are naturally social animals and I believe that to feel comfortable with ourselves we need to like what we portray to others. And with it comes honest confidence, wrapped up with a ‘THIS IS ME’ attitude and one to be happy with..