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Where do we go from here?

'Man in Fog.'

During a brief chat after class yesterday, which was really about course material and the last few weeks of the semester, a Chinese student of mine mentioned in passing how sloppy Americans look in general to outsiders.  Having lived outside of our culture for a period myself once upon a time, I cannot help but agree with that observation. 

Regardless of income bracket, the vast majority of people send all kinds of (probably unintended) messages that don't help them via their haphazard, "Pardon me, but my dirty laundry hamper just vomited on me" appearance.  Is it any wonder that so many have difficulty getting ahead when they cannot be bothered to put even a little effort into their attire, or into much else if we are brutally honest about it? 

Self-defeating habits and a pervasive, complacent, everything-happens-to-me mindset combined with a belligerent attitude are three of the largest millstones people carry around on their backs when it comes to interacting with the world and fostering new possibilities that might make their lives better. Not something most want to hear or acknowledge.

"I shouldn’t have to change anything about myself!  What can and should OTHERS do for ME?" goes the tired, entitled refrain. 

But assuming a disaffected stance and placing the blame elsewhere for one's own problems, besides seeming like the third national pastime here in the U.S. -- behind baseball and constant snacking -- is far easier than taking some responsibility, getting with the program, getting one’s act together, and joining the rest of society.  

Like it, or not, how a person presents him or herself to the rest of the world -- in the very broad sense -- is a part of that.  Sure, appearance isn't everything, but walking around in clothes that look like:  a) you pulled them out from the mildewed pile under your bed five minutes ago; b) you are homeless, relegated to life in shelters or living and sleeping rough although you actually have a full-time job, own a late model iPhone, a large SUV, and live in the suburbs; c) you resemble in appearance a small time drug dealer, a down and out addict, or a street tough in a large city somewhere will probably not have the effect on others that you want when it comes to moving forward through life in a positive way.  Making the effort to look more pulled together within and outside of the home, in a somewhat more mainstream context than most people typically do in our terminally disheveled present, has at least two benefits. 

One, exhibiting a neat, groomed appearance greases the wheels where social and professional interactions and aspirations are concerned.  My parents, both of whom at different times in the 1970s-1990s were involved with interviewing potential new hires at the corporate level, impressed upon my sister and me how quickly judgements were formed based on the details of appearance, and how vital clothing choices are in that.  Visual impressions matter regardless of how impressive your credentials, how sparkling your personality, or how polished your table manners.  

Two, donning clean, unwrinkled clothing with some actual color besides the now ubiquitous earth tones might, just might, help more people to feel somewhat better about themselves, their lives, their capabilities, and their future potential.  It's similar to the psychology behind military uniforms, I think, and how they are used as but one way to foster cohesion and esprit de corps over and above the specialized skills of the men and women in question.  

What about society more broadly though?  I remain cynical, and on darker days I think we are beyond the point of no return sartorially, socially, politically, environmentally, and in a host of other ways, but you never know.  Greater awareness of, together with improved pride in  our appearance might help lift the collective's self-esteem and self-confidence up from the gutter where it currently resides.  If we can believe a lot of what has been written on the subject, that is where far too many are when it comes to how they view themselves and their lives.  Can you say prescription medication for depression?  And let's not forget the much discussed opioid addiction crisis brought on, at least in part, by the sheer sense of hopeless resignation so many apparently feel.

When it comes to the clothes on our backs, keep in mind, we're not talking over-the-top dandyism here, or even 1950s-1960s corporate attire like the kind showcased by Madmen a few years back.  There is no denying, though, that how most present themselves to the rest of the world, while perhaps not at the absolute nadir, is certainly at a very low ebb.  I wonder if there has been any formal research and related writing that links our generally cruddy appearance as a society to the bleak national mood here in the United States?

External appearances might seem inconsequential in this context, but I'd stake money that looking like you give a damn -- a  scrubbed face, clean and brushed hair, a tucked in shirt, a belt and shoes that match, and clothing free of food or other stains -- would go a long way toward clearing the miasma of passive indifference that hovers over so much of society in 2019.  Put another way, it's time to reject apathy and take steps at the grass roots level to improve our own lives rather than wanting around for others to do that for us.  One small step toward that end is to begin taking some pride in ourselves once more and dress just a bit better than has become the sad, pathetic mean.

Who knows?  New avenues, opportunities, and possibilities might present themselves were we to put just a bit more effort into how we look to the rest of the world.  Oh,  I know.  I know. . .  Too much trouble.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


  1. Well said Stokes.

    Being a slob is a choice, not a necessity.



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All opinions are welcome here. Even those that differ from mine. But let's keep it clean and civil, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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