We live in a culture that tends to look only at the surface. Whether it’s the photos in our social feeds, a professional looking website, or the real life people standing before us in the flesh, we believe that what we see is what’s true.
We make assumptions about people and things based on their appearance.
I was also instilled with the importance of presenting myself to others in a certain way: to dress a certain way, have my hair done, and makeup on; to look the part.
If you’re struggling through something, if you’re going through a hard time, if there’s trouble at home, don’t let it show.
The line from a popular anti-perspiration commercial still echoes in my mind:
Never let them see you sweat.
A polished exterior instills trust. A cracked facade instills doubt.
At the same time, I was taught “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
We’d all like to think we are above these surface judgments, but we’re not. These are facts of unconscious human bias.
The gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic team final and individual all-around competitions this week, after losing herself in the air.
She made a decision that only she could make, based on what she knew about her body and her experience.
I have immense compassion and empathy for her. Although I don’t know what her experience is like, I have my own experience with my body and mind not working together,
For as much support as she has received, there has also been harsh criticism. In recent days I’ve read some of the backlash being thrown at her: people have called her a quitter and a traitor to her team.
I notice my impulse to fight back those critics, to defend Biles and myself.
I question whether they’d launch their attacks if she had physically injured herself in that first vault. Probably not.
It’s easy to send criticism from your keyboard, from the safety of anonymity. But before condemning someone, it’s worth considering whether you truly know what’s happening.
Not all wounds are visible. Many people are walking around looking fine on the outside but bruised and battered on the inside.
Everyone has things going on inside their bodies and in their lives that we don’t know about.
You don’t know what you can’t see.
And even as my mind races with all these things I’d want to say, I remind myself: this cuts both ways.
Where am I quick to judge someone who I perceive as causing harm without considering what issues they might have buried beneath their surface?
Moreover, how often do I dismiss someone or something because they are bruised on the outside, without considering what gifts lie beneath their surface?
What potential do we overlook when all we see are a person’s outer scars?
For all the people who walk around masking their pain, there are also those who walk around hiding their light.
Judgment is judgment, no matter what meaning we ascribe.
We’d be well-served to remember that whether we are looking at a shiny surface or a scratched facade, what we see isn’t the whole story.
when tempted to judge
consider what you can’t see
hidden wounds and gifts