I have a dear friend at work who years ago shared an expression with me that I cherish and I have used countless times since: “I just look like this.”
I have found this simple statement to be disarming and confounding and totally appropriate on so many occasions. “Don’t judge this old book by it’s cover” might be another way to say it but somehow when I say the words “I just look like this” it’s often, thankfully, a conversation stopper. It invariably begs the question, “what do you mean?” My responses to that question will depend entirely on the comment or statements that proceeded my pronouncement.
Let me explain:
I’ve used it to prevent racist jokes from being told in my presence. Just because I’m an old white guy, some people assume that I will appreciate jokes that poke fun at ethnicities. Please don’t assume that I share your bigotry. In truth, I find your comments hateful and hurtful.
Likewise, I’ve employed it to dissuade sexually demeaning or blatantly sexist remarks. I’m a feminist (an old white-guy feminist) who believes women should be treated with the same respect as men. And should be paid the same amount of money for the same work. Also please keep your “locker room talk” to yourself, it will only make me think less of you. I’m really not interested in who or what you “grab”.
My son is career military and I am proud of his dedication and sacrifice but please don’t assume that I am a raging hawk. I struggle with ‘The Just War Theory’ particularly when it is employed before “all peace efforts have failed”. Never confuse my pride in my son and my flag-waving patriotism with an endorsement of “bombin’ the hell out of ’em”.
Additionally, I’m Catholic so occasionally people will encounter me after mass to extol the virtues of the latest anti-abortion protest or homily and I gently remind them that while I am pro-life, I respect ALL LIFE. When I explain that I would like to hear the same passion coming from the pulpit with regards to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in our society and not just about unborn babies, I am often greeted with a look of disbelief, if not horror.
So I just look like this. I look like your grandpa or the guy next door or the mailman or your crazy uncle, but I don’t necessarily fit that look, if you think that ‘look’ makes me a racist, sexist, narrow-minded, xenophobe.
My wife who is much kinder, more loving, and more compassionate than I (thank you, thank you, thank you), often reminds me that you can never really know what is in someone else’s heart. So I promise that I will try to not judge you while you’re trying not to judge me.
Please remember, I just look like this.