Chris was a guy I chose not to associate with – stocky, rugged, perpetual exhaustion emanating from eyes that peered out of a ruddy complexion. Thin, wavy red hair. Unsavory would be my initial perception of him. He was an entry level manager, a job that can turn the most robust into a jittering mess. This, coupled with a young man’s propensity to burn the candle from both ends, appeared to be Chris’ story.
We had randomly stepped from the hanger into a bright sunshiny day to escape the din of aircraft manufacturing. Having never spoken to one another, and frankly never feeling the need to, the conversation began slowly. Soon I found Chris more engaging than his appearance and demeanor had led me to believe.
At some point, our conversation turned to the Company savings plan. Not something of immediate importance – a nest egg built at a snail’s pace and best not thought of for fear of stunting its growth. Chris confided that he depleted the account every other year, something I found fitting for a guy that seemed shallow, immature, and thuggish. It was the reasoning that both shocked me and helped me understand his short-sightedness. No male member of his family on either side, maternal or paternal, had lived past the age of 52, going back for generations. Not what I expected to hear, but it went far to explain that someone who I perceived to be reckless was actually living under a cloud of doom and dealing with it in the only way he knew how.
It was a lesson learned, one of many in my life.
We all know the idiom “Never judge a book by its cover” or “Walk a mile in his shoes,” but it’s a trap many of us fall into. Knee deep into the information age, or mired in it, we tend to look not so much for the truth, but for information that supports our biases. We apply labels to those we find unappetizing for whatever reason. It’s safer and more comforting to seek only the information that supports our preconceptions.
The wayward soul panhandling on a traffic island; loser, scam artist, or simply down on his luck? Muslims praying in a mosque; are they praying for peace or destruction? The patrolman on watch; is he or she a protector and servant, or an oppressor? The rich and beautiful ensconced in luxury; are they tyrants, givers or takers? Someone who worships a different god, has a different faith, or perhaps no faith at all; should they be scorned?
We humans find ourselves limited by our physical properties, our strength, intellect, and senses. There’s no shame in this. It’s when we limit ourselves in ways we can control – our love, acceptance, understanding and tolerance – that we truly limit ourselves and those around us.
I try to apply the lessons I’ve learned, like the one with Chris, to my everyday life, and I do so with varying degrees of success. This is no new resolution. I resolved to open my head and heart long ago. It’s when I fall into my own traps, my own preconceived notions that I am left with only one path to consider, that path being my own.
Loren Lee was born, raised and is currently residing in Southern California. He just recently retired from the Boeing Company where he spent 34 years employed as an Industrial Engineer. A father of two adult sons, Loren is an avid motorcyclist that enjoys being a grumpy old man, reading, writing, tending to his home, his girlfriend Kim, and their two silly dogs, Monty and Walter.