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Bob Tamasy: "Clothes Make The Man!" Well, Yes And No

  • Thursday, May 16, 2024
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

The adage tells us, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s true. A poorly designed cover doesn’t necessarily mean the contents of the book aren’t worthwhile. Likewise, even the most captivating cover doesn’t guarantee the pages inside are worth turning. But in today’s visually oriented world, a book’s cover can be a major factor in a potential reader’s decision about whether to pick up the book and consider what’s inside.

I remember when USA Today debuted in the early 1980s, with its emphasis on strong photos and colorful graphics. It set newspaper page designers scrambling. The only way newspapers could successfully compete with TV and computer imagery was to create pages that were visually compelling as well as content-rich.

What it boils down to is our human tendency to make snap judgments based on outward appearance. We do this with cars, houses, appliances, magazines, and just about anything else– especially people.

It might not be fair – or accurate – to formulate initial conclusions about folks based on their external appearances, but we do it all the time. If someone were to walk up to us with ketchup stains or chocolate smeared on his or her outfit, we’d probably conclude this was not a fastidious dresser. Their clothes might taste good, but it wouldn’t appear they dress in good taste.

Remember the TV detective of years ago, “Columbo”? He used outward appearance misconceptions to his advantage. He’d show up in a rumbled trench coat, stumbling and muttering along like he couldn’t find his way out of a three-foot tunnel. Yet by the end of the show, he would have deftly solved the mystery to the amazement of all.

When I was entering the business world, I encountered the book, Dress for Success. Its simple thesis was that to make a favorable impression, we should take pains to wear appropriate attire. I was reminded of this recently when a friend, a clothier, wrote, “Be careful what you wear, because it tells the world what you think of yourself.”

This is hardly a new concept. In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Polonius tells his son Laertes to dress well because, “apparel oft proclaims the man.” In that day, clothing would reveal an individual’s rank and status in society. American writer and humorist Mark Twain had his own take on this observation. He said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

But long before Twain, or even Shakespeare, this annoying tendency to judge people based on the first impressions they make was well-established. When the prophet Samuel was directed to go to Jesse and identify from among his sons the successor to Israel’s King Saul, the prophet thought several of the young men fit the bill – based on their physical traits. But God saw things differently.

Speaking about one of the sons, He told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Since God hadn’t chosen any of the sons Jesse presented, the perplexed prophet asked, “Are these all the boys?” To which Jesse replied, “The youngest is still left, but behold, he is tending the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11). This “youngest” was David, then a humble shepherd boy. He might have been voted “least likely to become a king” in Shepherd Today magazine. Nevertheless, Samuel insisted that Jesse send for David to join them.

When David arrived, Samuel saw that he was “glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features” (1 Samuel 16:12). Certainly not bad on the eyes, but this wasn’t what God wanted. Upon deciding Saul was unfit to serve as king over Israel, the Lord had declared He was seeking “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).

Speaking to religious leaders in Pisidian Antioch, the apostle Paul confirmed this. “After removing Saul, [God] made David their king. He testified concerning him, ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22).

What does this say to us today? It’s not saying that the way we appear outwardly is insignificant. However, what the Lord is seeking most of all is men and women, boys and girls, whose hearts are aligned with His own, who desire to serve Him, obey His commands, and carry out His will.

In effect, this is a double-edged sword for us. We’re not to be quick to judge others based on what we observe outwardly. We should ask God to enable us to discern what’s happening on the inside – their heart and motivations.

At the same time, as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), we shouldn’t let our own outward appearances become stumbling blocks for others by causing negative first impressions. As people of “the Book,” we want to ensure that our “covers” don’t turn folks away from checking out what’s inside.

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is btamasy@comcast.net.

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