Onions. Just onions.
Specifically blooming, but definitely onions.
Let me explain:
How do we perceive a person at first glance? Attractiveness, style of dress, eye contact, posture. We look people over, even (or maybe especially) when we mean not to. We’ve really been geared towards identifying and labeling people just based around what we see. The interesting part is how we do that, in my opinion. Let’s take an example:
Imagine, for a moment, someone that you would identify as goth. What popped in your head? What gender expression? What style of clothes or aesthetic? Based on your experiences with the goth subculture, you have a specific version of a person that may or may be like any other reader’s mind’s image. So, when you see a goth person on the sidewalk, your brain automatically categorizes them a certain way. They look a way that is familiar to an archetype you’ve already formed. That happens with everything. Race, gender expression, height, hair color, make up style. We associate every person we experience – with every other person we’ve ever experienced. This organized mental catalog of people and circumstances can either be protective or problematic (or both). And it gets deeper.
What if every time you saw a goth person, they were rude to you or someone else? What if every portrayal of a goth person on television was shown as depressed or angsty? What if you absolutely hated the look of the goth aesthetic? Now we have a different experience.
Now when you see a goth person, you may have an assumption about their personality too. And with that assumption, you may also have an unprompted reaction. That can be anything from actively avoiding the person, to feeling inclined to say something or treat someone a certain way simply based on how they look. You might see where I’m going with this.
Let’s pretend that instead of goth, I said black, or latinx, feminine, or loud. What if the person kind of looks like your father or sister, or that Math teacher you had in high school that failed you? Based on past history and beliefs based on that history, we as humans have a reaction to every person we come in contact with. For every time someone does something that “confirms” your internal belief, it makes that belief even stronger. The unfortunate part is that when someone does something that challenges your belief it may not actually change the way you think. It might just piss you off, or you may justify it as that person being one of the few outliers, or even try to come up with a reason why they still fit your belief system.
The truth is that we honestly don’t really know much about a person based on outward appearances. We can get hints about people – things like music taste and interest in television shows, but we don’t really gather much depth. Here’s where the onions come in.
I want you to imagine, as silly as it sounds, everyone as an onion, peel and all.
The peel is that surface level presentation that you see on the sidewalk, or in the grocery store. Every other layer underneath is every significant life experience they’ve ever had that brought them to the moment you’re seeing them at now. Now, one thing I can tell you for sure is that no two people have had the exact same life, regardless of how they look. They might have been to the same store, listened to the same music, or even had similar childhood experiences, but that doesn’t even cover the layers of depth that every single individual has.
And there’s so many layers. Childhood experiences, schooling, preferred comfort, soft spots, kinks, traumas, negative experiences, financial situations, medical history, interpersonal and romantic relationships, work life, ability to tolerate stress.
It can take ages to communicate with someone enough to peel back some of those layers, and what gets revealed and in what order is completely up to that other person’s comfort level. So you might assume someone’s an asshole because you’ve never seen them smile, but they might not smile because they were bullied for their teeth in 10th grade. You might assume all skaters are reckless and lack responsibility, but the kid you just saw as you drove by just built up the confidence to start skating a couple months ago after being horribly afraid of what falling might feel like.
And this isn’t to say that your assumption won’t ever be correct or helpful. Some signs of another person’s beliefs can be more obvious in their chosen appearance that day. Like I said, sometimes it’s definitely protective, but we just need to keep in mind that when it isn’t correct, it can be harmful. We could be treating people a certain way, for reasons that don’t actually have validity. Judgment is a major reason as to why people have such tightly wound onions, or maybe extremely thick peels. We get so wrapped up in how we think other people see us, and it distracts us from simply being ourselves.
So, the next time you see someone, and immediately have a label pop in your mind, or a series of negative assumptions, remind yourself that you really have no idea where that person is coming from in life, where their onion has been, or what they might assume about yours. In fact, that might be a good time to consider how better understanding yourself and your own life experiences could be helpful to you so you can be yourself, too.
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