Karen Osborne

The other day, I went to a choral concert at a local high school. I could tell by the passion and the effort put in by the students that they really loved what they were doing.

I didn’t know any of the students, so as I watched the performers sing their hearts out, I decided to test a theory I’d heard about in movie after movie and novel after novel, where the hero or heroine walks down the hall during their first day in school, often in slow motion, spotting cliques and groups as they go.

That theory is: Can we truly figure out what people are about by the way they look?

Ten minutes later, I still didn’t see “theater kids” or “jocks” or “troublemakers.” I couldn’t tell who the class clown was, who was popular. I couldn’t tell from hundreds of feet away. The audience clapped just as hard for one choir member as for another.

All that remained, in the end, was the beautiful music and the wonderful musicians who were singing.

Nevertheless, our world keeps on telling us that we can, and we should, judge a person by their clothing, their car, where they live and what they do. We meet a football player and expect a dumb jock. We meet an Asian boy and expect him to be good at math. We meet a blond girl and expect someone obsessed with clothes instead of books. We expect the kid who got in trouble in middle school to keep on getting in trouble in high school.

As I discovered at the concert, it doesn’t work like that. We can’t hold others prisoners of our cultural expectations, of what they “should” be like based on how they look.

One of my favorite pictures on a website I regularly visit is of a beggar holding out a plastic foam cup. While the world tempts us to think that maybe the beggar is an addict or a criminal, and thus not worthy of our time or effort, the site tells the beggar’s real story: He once had 40 acres and a huge house in California, but a car accident ruined that for him. He lost everything.

The real story? There but for the grace of God go we. We can’t judge a football player based on his jersey, a homeless person on his or her clothes, or anyone at all in this world.

In a world that judges others based on how they look, you have stories like my friend Charlie’s. For years and years, our group of friends would spend time at each other’s houses, but we’d never go to Charlie’s. We didn’t even know where she lived. When she finally invited us over, she told us why she’d been so reluctant to tell us: She lived in the poorest part of town, and she had been afraid we wouldn’t be friends with her if we knew she lived there.

We told her that we’d be her friends no matter what.

It’s tempting to judge others on exterior qualities such as looks, activities or money. That’s what the world wants us to do.

As with so many things, we can’t listen to the world if we want to do the right thing. We have to listen to the music.