Look before you leap … to conclusions

Look before you leap ? to conclusions

Sometimes, we just “know.” Right? It could be the way someone is dressed that has us instantly snap to a judgment and create a story about them. In fact, at my gym, I have a story for the tight-lipped woman with the Louis Vuitton purse in my fitness class even though I have never exchanged a complete sentence with her. Even when we couldn’t possibly know, we make judgments all the time. These judgments may stem from the past, a desire to maintain the status quo or fear of something unusual. Sometimes we go smack in the face of diversity training and miss out on great possibilities and amazing people. Yet, new possibilities are indeed at stake, not to mention kindness.

Years ago, I lived in a mountain town west of Boulder, Colorado. I was born in New York City, but my heart and soul longed for the west. However, I could never kill the last twang of that famous “New Yawk tawk” that people love to poke fun at. And my clothing style? Well, let’s just say that a knife didn’t dangle from a loop on my jeans, and my footwear did not reflect my readiness to pull a jeep from a mud hole. One day, I walked into the local saloon, and a guy by the name of Meadow Man turned his 300-pound hulk around to me and stated, “Girl, we don’t do that ‘roun here.” I think he was referring to my knee-high, patent-leather red rain boots. Even though I had lived in the community for several years, I felt completely ostracized, like a total outsider, all because I didn’t measure up to jean-jacket mountain wear and had the inflection of “business” instead of “bidness.” Anyway, it is now two decades later, but the power of “belonging” — or, rather, “not belonging” — remains in my consciousness. It seems there is an unwritten rule that if one appears different, they are somehow a threat to the status quo … like a blue jay that won’t share the telephone line with a red robin.    

Another time, I was invited to a very upscale cocktail party in Manhattan. I was traveling and only had jeans and some casual tops (should have been back on the mountain with Meadow Man!). Everyone was dressed up at dinner, and about halfway through the main course, someone said from across the table, “So, who are you? Obviously, you are ‘somebody.’” “Why do you say that?” I queried. “You must be,” the person replied. “Look at the way you are dressed.” (As in, “only a person with supreme confidence would dress this way.”) When I met my companions earlier in the evening, I did not apologize for my clothing. My non-lemming behavior garnered attention, curiosity and, yes, a story about my fame.

More recently, on a trip to Europe, upon being introduced to a potential client, I was admonished, “We don’t do American enthusiasm ‘roun here.” I psychically dropped two valium and looked as enthusiastic as a post. The meeting went better than expected. 

So, one of the ways the ego helps us survive is by creating categories. It’s good to note that it is just an automatic survival response but not the path to advancement, growth and development. Preserving the norm has value to an extent, but life instructs that the “norm” is a moving target. You move it, or it moves you. In the spirit of inclusivity, growth and development, I suggest we all bring healthy curiosity to that which appears different.

I think I will introduce myself to the tight-lipped girl at my gym tonight. Perhaps she is in the market for some red patent-leather boots. Either way, I am in the market for inclusion.