Looks Can Be Deceiving

by DavalosMcCormack on September 23, 2010

There’s a fellow I see in my local coffee shop several times a week. He’s not particularly tall but he’s powerfully built, he has a long braid that runs halfway down his back and he has a flamboyant goatee that gives him the look of a character from a Dumas novel about the Three Musketeers. He has a few visible tattoos and I suspect underneath his long-sleeved shirts he has a few more.

Jimmy looks like he can handle himself and if you were to meet him in a dark alleyway you’d probably be nervous he was about to handle you.  But you would be wrong. He looks like he should ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle, instead he rides the bus. He looks like he could be mean, hard-talking dude who has a pitbull, or three, guarding his house. Instead he’s soft spoken, sweet, and has a chihuahua.

He’s someone you can’t judge based on first, or even second, impressions.


Jimmy often greets you by asking “What’s the good word”. The other day I asked him what his good word is. He said “blessed”. And that’s how he sounds when you talk to him. He feels “blessed” to have good health. “Blessed” to have not just work but a job he loves. “Blessed” to be able to help others.

Talking to Jimmy you can’t help but feel “blessed” to know someone like him. He works in one of the poorest parts of San Francisco, as an outreach worker to people who have not just fallen on hard times but tumbled from a great height. Many of those in the Tenderloin have drug, alcohol and mental health problems. They live in a rough neighborhood where there are more dive bars and liquor stores than any other kind of shop, and where the smell of urine rises out of the alleyways day and night.

Don’t judge

Yet you get a sense that Jimmy doesn’t judge the people he works with. Maybe he knows their stories and what led them there. Maybe he has a sense of how close we all come to ending up there at some point or another in our lives. Whatever the reason, there is a gentleness to him that helps remind me that you cannot get a sense of the person merely by the way they look.

It’s a good reminder in a City where the divides between the haves and have-nots are so great. Where the rich still live in opulent mansions or elegant apartment buildings with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, and where the poor live on the streets or in housing projects with a view of abandoned shipyards and run down tenements.

Hidden qualities

It’s a reminder that the people you see walking down the street, who look well-dressed and comfortable may actually be in great physical or emotional pain and not show it. It’s a reminder that someone who seems happy may be depressed and hiding it. That someone who has worn clothes, thread bare shoes and a less-than-well-groomed look might actually be one of the kindest, most thoughtful and well balanced people you’ll ever meet.

It’s a reminder that we are surrounded by smart, thoughtful, kind, sweet, generous and amazing people. But we can’t tell who they are just by looking. We have to open our hearts, our eyes, and our mouths and get to know them. Maybe, if we are fortunate, we’ll find that we are one of those people too.

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