Beyond the Clothes (Revised: 9/15/14)
It’s often said that clothes make an individual, but this old adage is not always true – as there are many talented individuals who do not dress as expected and still have a lot to offer. The reality is that sometimes individuals who appear to be different do not always get a chance to prove their worth.
Sometimes as a society we are blinded, misguided, or prejudiced based on individual appearances instead of giving someone a fair opportunity to simply have a chance. It’s these types of unfiltered and acted on prejudices that prevent some individuals who appear to be different from the ability to receive a certain level of respect, which each of us deserves.
Individuals may use past experiences, school lessons, other’s guidance, and various information sources to navigate a sometimes crazy world. These types of experiential learning help individuals to develop decision making guidelines. Regardless of one’s decision making process, the use of individual filters to prejudice societal views against individuals due to characteristic, religious, economic, life circumstances, or other differences is not acceptable.
Prejudice is a societal fault that continues to hold the human race back from achieving its potential.
Many individuals at some point have had a prejudiced opinion about someone. The word ‘opinion’ is used because often times prejudice viewpoints are not based on any supportable fact(s). Therefore, knowing that prejudice does happen, it’s our collective responsibility to understand that prejudices exist and take action to move past an impulsive reaction to someone’s looks, clothes, speech pattern, or other factors.
Recently, I had an incredible opportunity to work with a group of men who started in my business training program. These men did not know anything about the program or me except that it was an opportunity to improve their life and business skills. Shortly after the first class started, I went from explaining business and life concepts to a question and answer exchange that Socrates would be very proud of and also inspired. These men demonstrated their desire to leave their past challenges behind to have an opportunity to learn something new, improve their current situation, and begin to make positive forward progress.
These men wanted nothing more than to have an opportunity to improve their skills, which I was inspired by their willingness to immediately engage with me to discuss business and life concepts. It was evident that these individuals had a desire to learn about business, develop professional resumes, and challenge me to provide information that was most useful to them. The requests for additional information received from these men were even more inspiring because these unplanned requests provided me with an opportunity to deliver material that is most beneficial to them, which highlights that there is sometimes value in going off the planned path.
The most amazing and beneficial recognition for me was seeing the interest in these men’s eyes and their willingness to engage in a process of learning. My ability to see these individuals as eager learners was solidified while I prepared to teach these men on my first day. While I went through my mental preparation, I recognized my own potential prejudices and made a conscience decision to ensure that I treated these men with the same dignity and respect as any other student who wanted to learn.
The only difference in this learning environment was that these students were in a controlled facility with correctional uniforms on their bodies and not their minds. Notwithstanding the uniforms, these men are individuals who should receive a quality education, have an opportunity for a prosperous future, and also have the right to not be forever tarnished by a past choice — because one’s past behavior is not always indicative of future (positive or negative) behavior.
Therefore, give others a chance … the same chance you would want someone to give you.
Mr. Young is the founder of “Saving Our Communities at Risk Through Educational Services (SOCARTES – www.socartes.org)” an educational non-profit, which teaches individuals in at-risk communities about life, business, and soft skills.