The Best Dressed

Posted: January 15, 2009 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing how much visual perceptions affect our behavior – and our responses. Take for example, our response to seeing someone who is homeless.

As a direct consequence of not having a home, the homeless aren’t the snappiest of dressers. Many times their clothing shows the effects of having been worn for days, weeks or even months at a time. Even those who are diligent to maintain as neat an appearance as possible will probably not end up on someone’s "Best Dressed" list.  

Unfortunately, as a society, we’ve become overly obsessed with outward appearances. Therefore, when it comes to the homeless – because they don’t look "wholesome" on the outside, we automatically assume that they are "unwholesome" on the inside. It’s a case of "first impressions are lasting impressions."

You would think that we would be socially mature enough to recognize that you can’t judge the book by its cover.

Let me switch gears for a moment…

By now, I’m sure that most folks have heard of Bernard Madoff.

He’s the guy who’s been accused of having swindled a quite a number of folks out of a lot of money using a Ponzi scheme. To date the amount given is around $50 billion. Not exactly "chump change."

Last headlines I read about him, authorities were trying to have a judge put him in jail, rather than allow him to remain under "house arrest." It seems that Bernie has been a bad boy during his house arrest – having mailed over a millions dollars in jewelry to relatives. In addition, there was $173 million in signed checks sitting in his desk drawer at the time of his arrest.

Then, of course, there is the now impeached governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

He’s been accused of having tried to profit from President-Elect Obama’s empty Senate seat. But that’s not the only way Blagojevich has shown himself to be a bad boy. According to the conclusions of a committee of Illinois lawmakers, he abused the power of his gubernatorial office.

Pretty much what Blagojevich did was bend the hard working folks of Illinois over the sink. He governed, not for the benefit of the constituency, but for his own personal gain.

Let’s not forget all the CEO’s of those financial corporations which caused the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Despite running their respective companies into the ground; wiping out the investments of shareholders and costing the American taxpayers over $700 billion in "bail out" money – those CEO’s walked away virtually unscathed. In fact, some of them probably smirked all the way to the bank with their multi-million dollar compensation packages.

Here’s the question: what do Madoff, Blagojevich and those CEO’s all have in common?

All of them were well dressed people.

It’s probably a safe bet to say that they most likely had custom tailored clothing made for them. I’m sure that not one of them bought their clothing off the rack like so many Americans are forced to do. And, I’m willing to wager that none of them were looking through the Sunday papers for sales.

If it’s true that "clothing makes the man," then perhaps the ones we may need to be worried about are the best dressed. They seem to be the ones who are the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Yet, it’s the homeless who are looked down upon by society – and all because they don’t dress well.

You may not like or approve of them panhandling. You might not like that they are digging through trash cans in search of recyclables. It may even bother you that some of them engage in these activities because they have an addiction disorder. But that is not a reason to treat them as though they were the dregs of society. They are people who happen to be homeless.

The reality is this…

It is the Bernie Madoff’s, the Rod Blagojevich’s, and the unscrupulous corporate CEO’s who are the real bums – even if they are well dressed.

  1. Skye says:

    I’ve noticed that evil is often well dressed.

    We’ll never be socially mature enough to realize that clothes do NOT “make the man” in reality. It’s what’s inside each and every one of us that dictate how we’ll behave. I think even the most desperate homeless folk won’t resort to thievery if they’re an honest person at heart.

    And then there are the Bernie Madoffs, the Rod Blagojevichs…..

  2. Joe says:

    Thank you for the heads up. We’re looking into what we can do about this guy.

    Incidentally, your comment gave us the chance to check out your blog — which we love. Great work. We were involved in some shelter work in Chicago, but your blog give a fascinating and thought-provoking perspective. Keep it up!
    Thanks again,
    Joe & Amber

  3. AnAmerican says:

    We have become such a superficial society in what we hold important.
    “Don’t be over self-confident with your first impressions of people.”
    Chinese Proverb

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