Who among us does not try to maintain some degree of respectability in our daily lives? We all long to be acceptable in other people's eyes for who we are and for what we do. Although most of us don't expect to receive special attention or recognition from people, based on the way we conduct ourselves every day, we do care about the way we look to others. We want other people to know that we are smart, competent, and tasteful.
The people who know us best – our families – don't need to be convinced of our qualities. They know our good and not-so-good traits, and they love us anyway. We don't have to prove that we are worthy of our friends' love, either. (At least, we shouldn't have to; if we find ourselves constantly trying to impress our friends, it's time to find true friends who value us for more than our name-brand clothing, status, popularity, good looks, or the size of our bank account.)
There is a sense of safety and acceptance that we experience when we are with our family and friends. We can let our guard down and relax. We can enjoy the company of other people without feeling the need to impress them or prove our worth. In spending time with family or friends, we feel a level of security that can't quite be reached when we are out in public, among strangers.
We all know how quickly we ourselves form opinions of others, upon meeting them for the first time. We also know that strangers can easily form opinions of us, simply based on our appearance or behavior. So we are careful to make a good impression and show ourselves to be likable and smart people. And, sometimes, we protect our own image at other people's expense.
A few days ago, I witnessed a rather heartbreaking incident. A mother and her adult daughter were traveling together, and became separated in surroundings that were unfamiliar to them. The mother asked me for help in finding her daughter. Several minutes later, I noticed that the two were walking together, so I said to the mother, “I'm glad you found each other!” The mother smiled, but the daughter had a different response; she shook her head, giving me a half-embarrassed, half-exasperated look, then began to scold her mother for being unable to follow instructions. Apparently, the daughter's instructions hadn't been clear enough for the confused mother, who offered a feeble defense until her daughter told her to stop arguing. All I could do was look on, saddened by the whole scene.
There are many ways that we protect our own image at other people's expense. And we have all done this before, in some form or another. I know I have. But the next time I feel the need to save face, I hope I will take a moment to remember that other people's reputations are just as valuable as my own. And I will remember a mother who asked for help... and her daughter who succeeded in making an impression on a stranger – not for her competence as a traveler, but for her lack of empathy toward her mother. Sometimes when we try to make ourselves look good in one area, we show ourselves to be lacking in other areas... and hurt others in the process. Is saving face worth so much?
I love people. Because I happen to be an introvert, I don't often make this truth obvious. In fact, because I need my solitary time, people may sometimes think that I don't care about them. If I am quiet, I may be perceived as being unfriendly, shy, or even stuck-up. In reality, I am quietly drinking in my surroundings, listening to other people, constantly observing and learning new things. Through the years, I have found much to love in the people around me, whether they be family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Let me share some of their stories with you today:
There is a woman who has made it well into her golden years. S he would never be found in one of those TV advertisements where all the seniors look like young, unwrinkled people with perfect silver hair. She has walked through life with all its trials, and has emerged with scars to match. She is sure that one of her battle scars is her diminished memory, but no matter what she may think, you know that she is sharp as a tack. She walks with a slow, but steady gait. She is one of the sweetest people there is.
Hard at work, there is a young person who fits the description of “nerd” quite well. She is a natural at all things technical. For all her skills and know-how, she would never see a portrayal of herself as the hero of a movie; everyone knows heroes must be cool and popular, right? But she doesn't spend time thinking about such nonsense. Her time is greatly in demand, yet she is one of the most generous people out there, always willing to lend a hand to those who need her help.
Among the random people of the street is a man who wears old, dirty clothes. He is so poor that he collects tin cans, riding his faded bicycle in the rain. He has a bit of a rough look to him. If you saw him on the street at night, you might walk the other way. But one day your path crosses his. Out of nothing more than cautious politeness, you mutter, “How are you?” Then you are surprised to hear his cheerful response: “I'm great...I woke up this morning!”
All week, a middle-aged woman serves people tirelessly at her job. At day's end, she goes home exhausted, to a most appreciative little dog. Hers is a quiet life; you won't find much glamor there. But she is one of the kindest, most patient people you know. She's had much tragedy in her life, but you won't find her at a pity party. She is too sensible for that. Although her days are full of work, she somehow finds time to volunteer.
Somewhere out there is a person who is not, and never will be, the life of the party. She sometimes worries about how old she has become (though she is young) and about how she strives too hard to protect herself from a broken heart. But she can't help but love people, such as the overweight man who thinks himself unworthy of love, yet is capable of showing incredible thoughtfulness... or like the woman who thinks herself unattractive, yet has, in reality, been beautiful ever since she was born. And as the introvert thinks of all the people she loves, she once again finds herself alone on Valentine's Day... yet not alone.