We are judgment machines

Do clothes maketh the man, or should we not judge a book by its cover? Both statements seem to carry some merit, and appeal to both our need to project an image, but also remain independent.

I recount a situation I observed between an elderly woman walking down the street and a young man who pulled up next to her in a car, offering to give her a lift in the noonday heat.

Was he a civic minded young man? A predator? Was she overly judgemental? His scruffy appearance didn’t seem to help the exchange. And this got me thinking about the idea of conformity versus individuality.

How far do we take our rights of individual freedom of expression, and how much can we expect others to accept them at face value, or much less feel comfortable with them? Is face value of any value?

If a little old granny is confronted by a youth presenting as a hooligan, is she right to feel fearful or is she being a judgemental bigot? Does the youth have every right to feel indignant, or should he be understanding of the insecurities of a vulnerable old woman?

Is that confrontation a call to action for him to look in the mirror and make a change, or does he insist that society must change to not only tolerate his appearance, but overcome instinctual fear and avoidance and evolve to feel open and warm about it?

Is that even possible?

If he were dressed in a nice suit, well groomed, tidy and well spoken, would she have reacted differently? Had a conversation, or even got into his car? Clearly predators have many tactics, and being scruffy doesn’t make you evil. But there’s something about looking like a vagrant that is repulsive to little old grandma’s, and I suspect many other people too.

Certainly, being scruffy will be a barrier to you if your aim is to integrate into society and project an air of confidence. How you dress will influence people’s perception of you, at a deep biological level. To rail about the injustice of it is to ignore the biological reality of it.

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