“The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
When I studied for my sociology A Level our teacher always used to say that if we were to dress, for just one day, in a completely different style to what we used to then we would experience the world differently. And that the difference would most likely be negative. Especially if the way we dressed was outside the norm for whatever social situation we were in, for example, if we turned up for class dressed to take part in a wedding.
I took no more notice of this than I needed to pass the exam, until a few years later, when my friend Nigella threw a ‘Freaks and Geeks’ themed birthday party, and everybody dressed up either as a geek, or someone who’d be considered a bit strange. I went as a goth. Or at least someone doing some kind of an impression of a goth.
Now it occurs to me that you, my dear reader, might be a goth. Or friends with a goth. Or related to a goth. Or just generally concerned at the implication that I think that goths are freaks. I don’t think that at all. Not at all. It’s just that it sort of fit in with the theme, and I already had most of the clothes that I needed to make the costume. And I was young, and I just didn’t think about it, okay?
Anyway, this was back when I’d just started working, and way before I had PTSD. I’d started with the major depression, for which I was self-medicating, and drunk pretty much all the time, but that’s not really relevant to this story.
Back then the world was a wonderfully warm and welcoming place. When I smiled at people, they always smiled back. Strangers carried my heavy bags for me on trains, randomly bought me lunch and cocktails, and just generally wanted to be my friend. Until the night of this party.
Now don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent party – or night out would probably be a better description – Nigella’s shindigs always are. But I noticed a really dramatic difference in the way the general public, all the other people who were out that night, but not out with us, responded to me.
While I was dressed as a goth nobody who I smiled at smiled back at me. They either averted their eyes or glared. And not a single person who wasn’t a part of our group said even so much as a word to me, even when I just tried to make small talk at the bar, or in the line for the ladies’.
I heard people walking passed us say disparaging things about goths, either to their friends or just under their breathe.
And I realised that the world, or at the very least Manchester, is not a very great place to be a goth. It’s no wonder so many people who are goths seem to have such low self-esteem.
I’ve had similar, albeit less extreme, experiences as I’ve gone through a myriad of drastic changes in my hair colour.
When I became a platinum blonde I got way, way more attention from men than I had before – although the majority of it was of the kind that no self-respecting woman would ever welcome. Other women seemed less inclined to to be friendly towards me. And a lot of people, on being told that I worked as an engineering insurance underwriter, thought that I was joking.
I’m not really sure why, it’s not as if it’s funny.
Then when I dyed my hair post box red, I ended up speaking to a lot more arty-types. I was chatted up by a lot more women. And the staff on the Urban Decay counter always, always wanted to do my make up for me.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m telling all this. What, you might be asking is the point I’m trying to make.
I’m not entirely sure that I have one really.
Except. I have a friend, who has a friend. This friend is very pretty. And where ever she goes people, mostly male people, try to speak to her; even when she’s clearly just trying to read her book on the bus. And when she responds by telling them that she’d really rather not engage in conversation, because she’s just minding her own business, reading a book on the bus, they think badly of her. And tell her she’s stuck up.
Now, around the time that I stopped finding the world a warm and welcoming place, I stopped being willing to talk to strangers as well. In fact for a good chunk of last year I’d have a panic attack if a stranger tried to speak to me. Most of those people will have decided that I was a freak.
Because we make assumptions about people. We judge their actions and reactions based upon our own understanding of the world. Which is gleaned mostly from the way that we ourselves have experienced it.
And yet most of us have such little understanding of how dramatically different our own experience of the world could be from someone who’s only difference from ourselves is something as minor as their hair colour. Never mind from someone who belongs to a completely different culture or sub-culture. Or who has a disability or mental illness.
So I think what I’m trying to say is that we should all just remember to cut each other a bit more slack, really.