Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Beyond Slick to the Essentials

Election time is a period when many candidates for office will do almost anything to get elected or reelected. They present a polished image of themselves and deny their own mistakes. They tell us how important and sophisticated they are and expect us to believe that they are the only person who can provide leadership. They tout their awards and tell us they alone are responsible for everything positive that happens in the world or the city. It is called slicking the voters, and we need to be able to look beyond their manufactured illusions and hyped images to see what is really important and who they really are before making a decision.

Mike Masterson had a column yesterday about how many people fall into the trap of making evaluations of coolness at an 8th grade level and tend to marginalize those who are more common or less pretentious. It applies to politics as much as to everyday life. Here are some of the points he makes, and they are worth considering:

“Think back to those early teen-age years when the pimples appeared, hormones started surging and insecurities ran rampant. That was when we learned to establish our remarkably shallow and immature system to measure the worthiness of others and even ourselves. We began to believe that if you wore the wrong clothes or didn’t wear your hair in a certain style, you were of little value. If you were overweight or hung out with the wrong crowd, you were unworthy of acceptance and admiration. The same went for the brand of vehicle you drove or the wealth and employment status of your parents. In short, somewhere around our 14th year most of us established commonly accepted criteria to measure the value of others. And every inch of our yardstick involved the superficial and irrelevant aspects of life. …

“Most 14-year-olds still base the worthiness of classmates not on their strength of character, empathy, generosity or compassion, but on irrelevant social and financial standing. I have overheard youthful conversations that ostracize any peer who fails to follow the accepted paths of the social status quo. The problem with such childish marginalizing is that so many adults failed to leave it behind back in junior high. Instead, we carried it through senior high, into college and the workplace. As a result, many full-grown people spend their adult lives still measuring the value of their fellow humans by shallow standards.

“How many times do we instantly marginalize a person we hardly know by what he is wearing or driving, or his career and where he lives We make such assessments every day. I know I have been guilty over the years. …

“Who knows how many times we have misperceived, misunderstood or just flat failed to recognize the actual value in others simply because they failed to meet this adolescent view? I know that I have encountered many truly wise and wonderful people who couldn’t care less about what they were wearing, which vehicle they drove or how they brushed their hair.

"I consider myself fortunate to have recognized early in adulthood that those aspects that seemed so crucial as a teen meant nothing in the larger view of life. The resulting friendships and acquaintances, even with many with a different world view than my own, have enriched life beyond description. …

“There have been many people whom I consider blessings. Not once in assessing their worth to me did my mind turn to their appearance or how much money or things they had accumulated. I found real value in the reliability of their words, the intentions of their deeds, and the depth of their hearts and faith.“

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