On November 3, I went to work in my favorite pair of cargo pants. They are darkish-green, with the obligatory cargo pockets on the sides and a checked pattern woven into the fabric.
I wore those same pants to work every day until December 3. (Yes, they were washed regularly.)
These sorts of little things amuse me. I grinned uncontrollably every day as I put those pants on. I walked through Timbercrest every day wondering who would be the first person to say to me, “Didn’t you wear those pants yesterday?”
Even Karen didn’t notice… she has assured me since that she will be paying better attention from now on.
“Why do this?” you may wonder.
I had three main results I was looking for:
1) Would anyone notice?
2) If they did notice, would anyone say anything to me?
3) On an even playing field with an optimistic outlook, working hard and well, and otherwise having a decent demeanor, does out outward appearance really matter all that much?
I often find myself doing this very thing: I get a little catty when someone is a little disheveled. I look askance at the woman still wearing clothes from the 80’s. I sometimes worry what people will think when I dress like “Christopher Robin” (which happens to be a look I enjoy).
Keep in mind, I work in a retirement community that is very, very nice. The people who live there wear nice clothes (not too formal, but nice). The staff only wear jeans on paydays, every other Thursday. Otherwise, there are uniformed departments and the other departments have a dress code. To a significant degree, appearance matters.
Also keep in mind that I spend very much of my time barefoot. Almost always when I’m not at work and usually in my office, summer and winter, rain and snow. I am used to people making remarks to me all the time about being barefoot… “Aren’t you cold?” or “How can you do that?” or “Shouldn’t you have shoes on in here?”
So, first, did anyone notice? When I announced on Facebook on December 3 that I had been conducting a “secret but very public social experiment at work;” several friends speculated as to what I had done. Only one got it spot on: Carrie Vineyard. When I talked to her about it, she said, “I was wondering the other day if Brian had any other pants.” Otherwise, no one else noticed.
This is directly connected to my second question: “If someone noticed, would they say anything to me?” The answer, apparently, is “No.” There are 310 people who live where I work and 200 employees. Almost every day, I go to several places related to my work: the grocery, the library, Manchester University, etc. No one said a thing.
There were some “retro” notices when I told some people… “Oh, yeah, I thought about that,” and such like. Sorry. That doesn’t count.
Some might say, “Well, you’re in management, how could we say something?” If you knew the employees in my department, you’d know they don’t hold back. Also, anyone who has worked with nurses or older adults knows that the connection between an opinion and the mouth is a short one… if they notice, they say it.
So my final question, “On an even playing field with an optimistic outlook, working hard and well, and otherwise having a decent demeanor, does out outward appearance really matter all that much?”
My conclusion, drawn from this non-scientific experiment, is what I suspected: No. Outward appearance doesn’t matter as much as anyone thinks. There are plenty of people who go to work in $500 suits who are negative and grumpy. There are plenty of people in the latest fashion trend who are ineffectual or marginal in their performance. I know people who look great but they are really a drag to be around.
This gets to the root of a lot of issues in life. People are too often judged by how they look rather than by who they are. This is unfortunate. It is also too familiar to almost anyone:
– The older person who has lost their false teeth and won’t see anyone until she does
– The teenager who dreads the day because of acne and withdraws from his friends until it clears up
– The woman whose hair is responding poorly to the humidity and takes it out on the waitress at lunch
– The man who pulls in his gut when a young woman approaches think it will make a better impression
… and on, and on, and on.
When I go barefoot into a store most people don’t say a word. However, I can tell right off when I see a clerk or another customer who is begging to say something. It doesn’t seem to matter that I am generally in good humor, or that I’m in a nice shirt and pants, or that I’m there to spend money, or that I may even know half the people in the store. I’ve been judged for how I look – barefoot – rather than who I am or what I am there for.
It’s not enough to say “Everyone does it” or “There has to be ‘professionalism'” or other such: When we judge by outward appearance we fail to see the bigger picture.
For example, we may be put off by the clerk with a conspicuous piercing – and I’ve witnessed people make remarks to people like this – but we fail to see that this person may be working two or more low-wage jobs to pay child support or to afford tuition or medical bills.
Or maybe we judge the overweight woman at Walmart for her tight clothes or awkwardly exposed skin without seeing that she’s being abused at home or has a child in jail or is simply very lonely and can only seem to find comfort in food.
Worse yet, maybe we determine that those fine looking people in smart suits or fashionable dresses are nothing to worry about only to learn that these are the people who working to tear down historic buildings or suing the schools for having a Christmas party or what-have-you. It is truly a lie that “clothes make the man.”
If someone has an optimistic outlook, does it matter if they’re wearing shoes or not?
If someone is working hard and well, does it matter if their clothes are stylish?
If someone has a decent demeanor, wouldn’t we rather deal with them than with someone with good looks and critical?
My conclusions are this (and I am not exempting myself from this):
* Try to see a fellow human being as they are, not as they appear.
* If you (or I) have an issue with what someone is wearing, try to see beyond that – what is their appearance communicating?
* Examine yourself (or myself): why is their appearance bothering you (or me)? Is it more to do with my own prejudice than with who that other person is?
Thanks for sharing this little social experiment with me. It was fun :-)
I eavesdrop too much.
Today I walked in to a room as two men began a conversation. Introducing each other, the one man thought the other might work with the first man’s wife.
No, he stated. He works in a plant of a similar name and nature, but, he explained, the wife works in the tool and die shop; he, the second man, works in the foundry.
Ah, said the second man.
Then he said what piqued my interest.
“We’ve only lived here a short time. But I can tell you there’s a lot of drugs on this town.”
He looked up at me, standing at the other side of the room.
“I don’t know if there’s any cops here,” he hedged, “But I just know there’s a lot of drugs.”
The other man agreed.
“Pills. All kinds of pills.”
On a cue from the first man, he added, “as I’ve heard…”
Being the only other person present, I thought myself to be the suspected cop. I stood silently, awaiting my turn to order.
The conversation diffused quickly and as went our separate ways ways. I thought that things really are as we see them.
I have worked in North Manchester for 16 years. I can think of 100 first impressions I have of the town that have nothing to do with drugs. Victorian homes. Amazing downtown architecture. Intelligent community. Great schools. Friendly. Artsy. Cultured in a small town way. Urban (I live in a town of 399 souls).
Drugs wouldn’t ever cross my mind (other than the kind you get at CVS).
How we approach life is the real difference as to how we see things, isn’t it? I suppose if the cop-fearing man had an interest in the finer things life has to offer, he wouldn’t have had his first impression that the town is full of drugs.
And I’m not saying that the victim of my eavesdropping is a druggie of any sort.
There’s a story that makes my point. It was told to me years ago by the late Elmer Steffen. Elmer was a volunteer in his Church and community many years ago. He told the story this way:
A boy moved to a new town from across the state. He approached his new neighbor who was out sitting on the porch.
“Sir,” the boy asked, “I’m new here. What kind of kids live in this town?”
The man answered, “Well, what kind of kids live in the town you came from?”
“Well, they were mean and you couldn’t trust them. We had bullies and all kinds of trouble. Kids never dressed well or took care of their things.”
The man answered the boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”
The boy went away sad.
It turns out that the man had new neighbors on the other side also, and the boy next door came to see the man on his porch, just like the first boy did.
The second boy also asked the man, “What kind of kids live in this town?”
And the man asked the second boy the same question, “What kind of kids live in your old town?”
“We had great friends! We had lots of fun playing together and helping each other out at school. It was so much fun to share things and spend time together.”
The man answered the second boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”
In my experience with people, I’ve come to believe the wisdom of Elmer’s tale.
We see life and live life according to our perspectives. I know people on their death beds who are more concerned for their family and friends than they are for their own impending departure. And I know people – many younger than me – who simply think they have no reason or purpose in life.
I don’t recommend dosing the water with Pollyanna or fitting everyone with rose-colored glasses, but I do recommend that everyone take stock of the good things they have and work from that perspective.
Things like drug problems or other ills won’t go away simply by thinking optimistically; at the same time, a positive outlook puts those problems in perspective. The problems don’t run our lives – we run them and deal with the problems as they come.
Thanks Elmer for this great lesson.
Today is a sad day for me. Nedra Hawkins died this afternoon. Nedra was a person I really cared for a lot just for who she was. She was someone I especially appreciated because she is the person who told me to go barefoot – and that has changed me forever.
Ten years ago I was dealing with hip bursitis something fierce. I tried insoles, I tried new shoes. I tried pain medicine.
I went to the doctor because I thought I had broken my hip. He x-rayed me and said there was nothing wrong. He gave me a cortisone shot and sent me on my way. Two weeks later, the pain was back as bad as ever… they wouldn’t give me another shot.
I was walking with a cane… my daughter was on a mission in the Caribbean in January and brought me a beautiful, carved cane that I cherish.
That’s when Nedra came along.
Nedra and her late husband, Glenn, operated a Health Food Store in Fort Wayne for a long time. While in that business, Nedra learned about the benefits of Reflexology. She began to practice it and had quite a large clientele.
After Nedra and Glenn moved to Timbercrest, she continued her reflexology practice with others who live at Timbercrest. I went to her a number of times.
If was on one of those visits that I was telling Nedra about the difficulty with my hips. She listened closely and attentively. After she got done with my reflexology treatment, she said to me simply (and straightforwardly):
“You should try going barefoot for a few days.”
You have to understand that I’m not a big fan of bare feet (ironic, isn’t it?). When she told me that, I sloughed it off a little but. I had all the usual prejudices people have about bare feet: they’re dirty, offensive, rude, slovenly and more than a little hillbilly-ish. It was okay for kids, but I was 45 years old (at the time) and it certainly wasn’t a fitting thing for a middle-age man to do.
But when I got home, I took my shoes off and didn’t put them on the rest of the weekend.
By Sunday, the pain was gone.
I was flabbergasted. The pain was gone. No meds, no insoles, no cane.
I began reading a lot about going barefoot and found that many people were in the same boat – they found their health and posture to have improved considerably by such a simple and harmless action as going barefoot.
By that summer, I was dedicated to going barefoot all the time – as much as I could. I did and I do.
I wear sandals or slides at work, that I can get out of easily. I wear my sandals a little at Church, but most of the time not, and the people of the Church love me in spite of it (I love them, too, by the way). Otherwise, my shoes stay in the car. I wear flip flops in stores that are ignorant enough to have a “no shoes” policy (foolishness) and I wear my sandals when I am representing my company in the community.
Honestly, I don’t understand why people wear shoes at all. In most cultures, all around the world, there is a strong heritage of going shoeless. Last week I officiated a funeral of one of our Church members. (I wear regular shoes for funerals and weddings.) It was wonderful to bless her family and to commend Marcille into God’s hands, but I couldn’t wait to get those shoes off! :-)
I will miss Nedra a great deal. She had some significant health issues in the last few years of her life, but she never failed to be encouraging and witty. She had a deep faith and a personal peace that “passeth all understanding.” She loved to sing the old hymns and was a woman of prayer.
She and I would talk about her time “doing feet” as she called it and I often told her about how important her advice had been to me.
I will keep her family in my prayers this week as they mourn. May she rest in well-deserved peace.
If you’re a history nut, you may enjoy a few thoughts here about our little town of Roann and the place I work, Timbercrest, in North Manchester.
The connections of Roann and Timbercrest actually pre-date Timbercrest. They go back to the days when Timbercrest was located in Mexico, Indiana, and it was called The Old Folks and Orphans Home of the Church of the Brethren (or, more fondly, The Mexico Home).
Today, Timbercrest is in North Manchester, Indiana, having moved with 37 residents of the Mexico Home. And Roann is situated about half-way between the two.
Many leaders of the Roann Community have lived at TImbercrest over the years.
– Dale Kinzie, who lived in a delightful brick and gingerbread home on Church Street, called TImbercrest home for a number of years.
– Carl and Gretchen Pence lived at Timbercrest. Back when Roann had a “drug store,” Carl ran it. He had family in the Roann years for many years. Carl recalled playing basketball for Roann High School back when the old school stood where the Bryan Apartments are now and the teams played ball in the old Unitarian-Universalist Church. Carl said they played with a modified court and the only room for spectators was when people could look in the windows from the outside.
– Lloyd Miller had a locker plant where the Roann Fire Station now stands. For many years, Lloyd was active in the Roann First Brethren Church, but he grew up north of town. One of my favorite pictures is of Lloyd as a 5 year-old boy fording a team of oxen across the Eel River near the Covered Bridge.
– Gretchen DuBois still lives at Timbercrest. She and her husband, John, used to own the gas station that stood where the access to the “new bridge” is. She and her husband built the house that still stands on that corner, from scratch. Gretchen found Roann to be a place of healing. As a young bride, she lost her first husband in World War II. She and her new husband found great friends and a good place for their children in Roann.
– June Wolfe is the widow of the legendary pastor of the Roann Church of the Brethren, Claude Wolfe. Claude worked at Manchester College. June was a character in her own right, though, using her gifts of great love and service in the Roann Church and community. She remained a member of the Roann Church of the Brethren all her life.
– Katherine Carr always considered Roann home, even though she and the family farm south and east of town.
– Phyllis LIttle and Mary Miller hail from Roann. They still live at Timbercrest in the Neighborhood Homes.
– According to orphanage records, several families from the Roann area helped with orphans and the orphanage before that ministry closed in the mid-1900’s.
People are the main (but not the only) connection of Roann and Timbercrest.
Back after World War II, someone in the Roann Church of the Brethren got the idea of going to the Mexico Home each year for Christmas to help decorate. And they’ve been doing it ever since. Even as Timbercrest has grown – 37 opened Timbercrest, 310 live there now – a team of diligent women from Roann have come to decorate trees, hang garland, assist residents with their won décor, and just to bring the spirit and joy of Christmas. Today, that legacy has been taken up by the Walk By Faith Community Church, with the same spirit and joy of Christmas.
In addition to that, Roann Church of the Brethren women made countless noodles to help fund projects at Timbercrest. And Walk By Faith Church women still come for birthday dinners and other events on campus.
Back when there was an orphanage, quite a few children came from the Roann, Chili, and Denver area and several families from Paw Paw Township helped house orphans. This part of the Mexico Home closed long before there was a “Timbercrest,” yet their heritage is in common with Timbercrest today.
I’d love to hear more stories of connections of Timbercrest and Mexico Home to the Roann Community. If you have a story, please send it along to me at email@example.com It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Thanks!
Pictured above is me on Mar. 12, 2014, after we got yet another blast of snow. I had just walked through the ploughed snow from my car on my way to the door at work (note my sandals in my left hand).
I can’t deny the fact that I love going barefoot in the cold and snow. I’m going to try and explain why in this little post.
This was a great winter to be barefoot. Much of the time it was so freezing that the snow was light and powdery, soft to the touch and easy to get through. It was also easy to shovel, except for the fact that it was often windy and blew some of the snow right back to wear it had been cleared.
It was a great winter to be barefoot because the very cold (often sub-zero) temps meant less chemical ice-melt used. It is really ineffective to use when the temps are below 15, so lots of places didn’t seem to use as much. Regular rock salt is tough to deal with, but it’s bearable and I like it when it’s mixed with sand or cinders. But to me, going barefoot through those chemicals is worse than going through the ice and snow. If you see me in flip-flops in winter, it’s more likely the chemicals than the cold!
It was a great winter to be barefoot because of “warming.” I don’t know what the technical term is, but when you come in from a super-cold day, the process of the warmth returning to your feet feels almost hot… like a “super warming” effect. There were lots of opportunities for this during this past winter.
It was a great winter to be barefoot because people seemed to be so pre-occupied with their own issues with the chill that they didn’t bother me. A few people stared, but most people were shaking in their parkas and not caring about the barefoot guy walking near them.
It was a great winter to be barefoot because it challenged me to think about why I do this. Living a barefoot life is a personal choice. I do it for my health – and my hip – and because I love the connexion with nature and life. I like the spiritual sense of walking with God and the mindfulness of the present moment being barefoot brings. I empathize with those who are poor in the cold… I am not poor, thankfully, and I need to be intentional about understanding those who God loves most: those who have no heat, who have to sleep outdoors in the winter, and many others who experience the freeze through no choice of their own. Being barefoot helps me empathize with them.
It was a great winter to be barefoot because this was a great winter. Have we ever had a winter this long before? From the week after Thanksgiving it hasn’t let up until late last week – and we still have piles and piles of snow everywhere that may take through April to melt. It’s a winter like no other and we’ll be talking about it 30 years from now, just like we still talk about that Blizzard of ’78. And I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, “I went barefoot through it every day!”
There are those in the barefoot sub-culture who refer to going barefoot in the winter as “Snowfooting.” I like the term. Here are a few thoughts on that:
1) Just like going barefoot the whole rest of the year, going barefoot in the snow and cold is a sensory rush. People ask me all the time, “Aren’t your feet cold?” Yes, often, but the challenge and the rush (I can’t think of a better word) is amazing.
2) There is a unique sense of feeling the snow melt against your warm skin. On the soles, it’s a functionary thing, treading to go and not slip. On the tops of the feet and toes, it’s a mixed message. The cold can be brutal on less-used skin, like the tops and toes, but it’s also physically amazing to see what your skin can withstand.
3) Frostbite, well, maybe. I’ve never had a confirmed case, although this winter I may have had a touch of it. If it is what I thought, then it’s really not so bad. I wouldn’t want to lose a toe to it, mind you, but in general it was no worse than a sun burn (and peeling after).
4) In that string of super cold, sub-zero days in January, I was forced to wear boots (!?!?) for the first time in nine years. I hope it’s another nine years before I have to wear them again. But it did remind me that being smart in the cold is important, too.
This was a great winter to be barefoot :-) and there are still four days left ’til Spring! :-)
The question is right from the non-barefooters playbook:
“You didn’t go barefoot while you were there, did you?”
My answer: “All the time.”
Response: “Don’t you know they have ________ [name the choice of vermin, disease, or other danger]?”
My answer: *Sigh*
I just returned from a medical mission in El Salvador. And the barefoot questions have started since I got back… the questions about picking up strange worms or diseases and such.
These questions are interesting to me because they presume, perhaps, that in the U.S. we have no strange worms or diseases. I suppose there are critters I’d rather not deal with in a place like El Salvador, but they are the exception rather than the rule, just as they are here.
There is a lot more litter in El Salvador than in the U.S., there is no gainsaying that. My observation is that there is a lot more “dangerous” debris laying around also – broken glass, bits and pieces of wire and metal, plastics and biological refuse.
That being the case, however, I also observed that people in shoes were also avoiding all that dangerous debris – just like the U.S., oddly enough.
It is also my observation that many Salvadorans are less “hygienic” than North Americans. Perhaps if we were a land with very limited hot water, and irregular water service at that, we might be a little less ‘hygienic” also. If the choice to be made is between water for a shower or cooking for the family, I might choose the food myself.
There are people I know who think going barefoot is less hygienic. They don’t seem to realize that there are likely more germs on the shoes of people than there on the soles of my bare feet… I wash my feet every day – sometimes twice a day. When was the last time someone who wears shoes washed the soles of them?
The Salvadorans didn’t seem to think being barefoot was unhygienic. They DID think it was curious, but no one minded in restaurants, Church, or anywhere else. Some even took the effort to try and question about my barefoot walking in as good English as they could muster (and I tried to response in broken Spanish).
One member of the medical mission team I was with kept on the alert for me: “I hope you step on a screw worm… you’ll see what that’s like.” He even said, “I think there are scorpions on this path. You don’t want to step on those!” Another team member felt I needed to wear those blue shoe covers, but not everyone in shoes needed them. What’s up with that?
The fact of the matter is that screw worms have been eradicated in El Salvador since 1995, and prior to that they preferred dead flesh to living flesh anyhow. And scorpions, while dangerous, are “more afraid of us than we are of them.” And if I had a dangerous germ on my feet – again, no more dangerous than anyone had on their shoes – those flimsy blue shoe covers are just a ruse… they wouldn’t have kept anything out.
In reality, I would rather be barefoot in El Salvador – and anywhere – than to be there – and anywhere – in shoes.
We visited this awesome volcano, Boquerón, outside of San Salvador. Mountains amaze me anyhow, being from the flattest parts of Indiana, but this volcano was great. It was very steep… the road to the top was roughly paved and cobblestone… great toughening surfaces to feel. While the sun beat brightly on us as it began to set around the volcano rim, the ashy dust of the path was cool to the feet. The roots that traversed the path were a tripping hazard to shod and unshod hikers, but to feel their knotty fingers was invigorating. In short, being barefoot enhanced my experience of Boquerón in ways that the shoe-wearers couldn’t understand.
We also visited a UNESCO heritage site, Joya de Ceren. It is like Central America’s Pompeii, an entire Mayan village covered with ash and debris from a nearby volcanic eruption in the late 6th century. (No human casualties, thank God.) Everyone oohed and aahed at the remarkably well-preserved buildings and sites, but I couldn’t help but think that I was the only one who really walked in soil that those same Mayans enjoyed barefoot 1400 years ago.
So, yes, I was barefoot there. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. El Salvador is a wonderful, mysterious, inviting place. Barefoot is the best way to experience it.