Dress Code

Posted: February 22, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

Because of the medical problems I had late last month I’ve been diligent about keeping my medical appointments. I had one this morning. It was to have blood drawn and give a urine sample. It actually took me longer to get to the appointment, get signed in and wait for my name to be called than it took to give the samples.  

The thing about this type of appointment is that it requires not eating for 12 hours before hand. Which is probably why as soon as it was over I headed out to get something to eat. Since I’ve grown tired of fast food, I decided to have a "sit down" meal.

After I gave the waitress my order, I glanced around at some of the other customers. Just normal people who were hungry. Nothing out of the ordinary. So I just waited for my meal and softly hummed in tune with the music. Then, just a few minutes before my meal arrived I heard the opening notes of a song that I really like. In fact, I started singing along (under my breath, of course).

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who hears a song and then can’t seem to get the melody out of their mind for the rest of the day – or even for a number of days afterward. Well, for me this was that type of song.

While I was eating I happened to look out through the window and I spotted a gentleman who I’m pretty certain was homeless. He wasn’t grungy looking, but he wasn’t dressed a la Armani either. So it must have been the well worn backpack that gave it away. It wasn’t just a regular backpack either. This was a jumbo sized backpack. When I saw the size of it I immediately wondered to myself how much it weighed.

I have an actual laptop carrying case. It’s supposed to hold everything I might need, but I don’t use it. I carry a backpack that is designed to carry a laptop. It has a specially padded pocket for the computer and then a number of different pockets for other accessories. It may not look entirely professional of me to be carrying a backpack, but it’s far more comfortable than lugging around the laptop case. And although laptops are supposed to be light weight, if you’ve been lugging one around with you from one place to another, it does seem to get heavier as the day progresses. Yet, I can’t imagine that it weighs anything as heavy as the backpack that gentleman had on his back.

All the while, the song I had just heard kept playing in my mind.

A little later in the day, I stepped out to grab a cup of hot chocolate and spotted a homeless man on a corner holding a sign. At his feet was a backpack and a plastic bag with what I imagine were more of his worldly possessions. This gentleman also wasn’t dressed to the nines.

And the melody was still going around and around in my head.

It’s probably no secret to anyone that most of the homeless have a dress code problem. That comes from having an extremely limited wardrobe. Even those homeless who find a way to maintain a neat appearance are usually given away by their backpacks and rolling luggage.

It makes me wonder.

What if the homeless didn’t have to carry all of their worldly goods with them everywhere they went? And, what if they were able to be dressed neat and tidy all of the time? What if they just went around looking like everyone else? Would they be recognized as homeless? But more importantly… would we have such a revulsion to their presence? Would that make it easier for us to accept them? Would we be more willing to extend a helping hand to them? Would a neat appearance make it possible for us to behave more compassionately?

I have a suspicion that this may just be the case.

If the homeless had even the superficial "appearance" of what we, as a society, believe is acceptable we’d probably be more willing to find a way to end homelessness. However, because the homeless – in general – have an outer appearance that is not as "clean" as we would like, we automatically presume that they must be less than wholesome. Yet, I’ve met quite a number of homeless who have "cleaner" hearts than many non-homeless.

Admittedly there are those homeless who are nothing more than scoundrels, but then that is also true of many people who have places to live.

So, what does it say of us as a society, that we’re willing to accept someone who is well dressed and yet may be shifty, but we aren’t willing to accept someone else simply because they don’t have as well groomed an appearance as we’d like. Doesn’t that make us superficial?

Someone once told me that "a pretty face can hide a wicked heart."

I imagine that it works the other way around as well: "a rumpled exterior can belie a kind and generous heart."

Maybe we have to start taking a good hard look at ourselves and see what type of values we really have? Perhaps the ones who need to get "cleaned up" is us and our hearts.

Oh… and the song that kept going around and around in my mind?

It was "Colors Of The Wind" from the Disney film "Pocahontas."

The verse I like best goes like this,

"You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew"

  1. Michaelann says:

    I’ve always found it amazing that the songs in our heads– if we pay attention– have a message for us.

    You write beautifully. I was right there with you, having breakfast.

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