We’ve heard it all our lives. We know the wisdom that lies within its well-worn words. Yet we do it, often before our brain understands what we’ve done. We judge a book by its cover. We judge up, down, left, and right. Yes, I mean literal books…for now. Covers need to grab a potential readers attention, be aesthetically appealing, have a clean and professional look, all while visually tying into the story. Let’s face it, us readers learned to judge covers early…like our first elementary school book fair early. I still remember the exhilaration nine-year-old me felt wandering my school’s library, books tagged with price stickers instead of dewy decimals, oblivious to everything except the possible worlds hidden behind those covers and how many I could visit with the ten dollars in my Batman billfold. Book covers are important. I agonize over mine, sometimes spending months on just the concept. I’m getting ready to reveal the cover of my new novel and am a nervous wreck about letting it out into a world of judging eyes.
Here’s the thing, it’s not the same when it comes to people. It doesn’t work. It’s not helpful. I’d like to illustrate with a short tale. It’s a true story, only the names have changed.
Jayson Paris no longer worked in the profession where he had spent twenty-five years building a career. A horrible pandemic changed the rules, and he found himself (like so many others) contemplating what the next quarter century might bring. His business cards once referred to him as a “Key Account Sales Consultant”, but those were gone…along with his company car, steady salary, and generous commission.
But Jayson was happy. He owned a small online business along with a small publishing company, and he loved to write. People liked his first few books, and he was in the middle of writing another. He’d hoped to hop off the corporate ladder and onto the shaky ground of an indie author and small business owner at some point before retirement age, but circumstances often dictate the direction and dates of our best laid plans, and this is where Jayson found himself.
So, he came up with a new plan. Grow his online business, keep writing, and go back to college to become a teacher. Jayson came from a family of educators, so the change seemed natural, instinctual even. Some people dream of becoming a famous athlete or actress, Jayson dreamed of becoming a writer and teacher. It’s how his nine-year-old self pictured the future. But, Mr. Paris, as his students would one day call him, had never found the opportunity (courage) to make the change (give up the company car/money/security)…until circumstances forced him.
College costs money, more money than Jayson made as a writer and small business owner, so he amended his plan to include a part-time job working in a friend’s local pizza restaurant. His friend needed help, and the money Jayson earned from rolling dough and delivering calzones would help him achieve his goals.
Those who know Jayson, know he can be clumsy and sometimes a little awkward around strangers, but his friend assured him he would do fine. Jayson began his new gig by delivering a couple of “contactless” orders. Find the house, ring the doorbell, and put the food on the porch. Those two deliveries gave Jayson the confidence that he could do this job. It was, after all, much simpler than conducting a business review with a multi-million dollar manufacturing facility or crafting a story with an engaging plot and interesting characters.
Things changed with Jayson’s next delivery, his third ever, to a fellow named Dub Pureed. Jayson found the subdivision, a nice one with manicured lawns and lovely homes, and pulled into the address printed on the ticket. Dub’s delivery was old school, cash payment and all…Dub hands Jayson the money, Jayson hands Dub the food. This is where the story turned interesting for the writer, small business owner, new pizza delivery driver, and college student/soon to be teacher. Instead of an easy, pleasant exchange of currency for food, Dub decided to aggressively belittle Jayson.
Maybe Dub thought Jayson was going through some sort of withdrawal as he fumbled around the delivery bag for packs of crushed red pepper and parmesan cheese. Or, maybe it was the momentary confusion Jayson felt as he tried to remember which, if any receipt, he needed to leave with the customer. Those details can’t be determined since this particular story is from Jayson’s POV, but Dub made it clear that Jayson was beneath him. No, “hello” or “how are you doing tonight?”. No, “thank you” or “stay safe out there.” Our antagonist, Dub, launched straight into a tirade about Jayson getting his “life together” (Jayson’s doing the best he can but there are only so many hours in the day) and “cleaned up” (he showered right before work but did have flour on his pants), and getting “straight” (Jayson didn’t know he came across as askew).
Jayson took the verbal barrage without firing back. After all, this was a customer, and Jayson’s friend owned the business this customer just ordered from.
But the encounter bothered Jayson. It made him think. Why isn't kindness the norm? What makes people like Dub say the things they say and act the way they act when they have no knowledge of the situation? General ignorance of how civilized society should operate? Low self-esteem masquerading as self-righteous bravado? A lack of compassion and empathy for other humans? Yes.
“Yes, to all of them,” Jayson thought as he drove back to the little pizza shop.
I understand a tough love approach can be needed when dealing with certain issues. I get it. Just know, if you decide to judge and demean a stranger, whether they’re standing behind a cash register sporting green hair and a nose ring, handing you a sack of burgers through the fast-food window with a tattoo covered arm, or delivering calzones, make sure you have your facts straight. If not, you might become part of what they call in the business a “teachable moment”, bud.
Moral of the story? Don't be a Dub. If you're going to judge a book by its cover, start with this one. It's scheduled for release late summer/early fall 2021. Let me know what you think.