Never, ever look undignified, even when you have nothing

I took this photo of a Rwandan refugee who worked on a bus between Kigali and Kampala. He carried himself with great grace. He was among many who taught me how to project this kind of pride, regardless of the environment.

I took this photo of a Rwandan refugee who worked on a bus between Kigali and Kampala. He carried himself with great grace. He was among many who taught me how to project this kind of pride, regardless of the environment.

One of the great rules to learn about life is to not make snap judgments by appearances alone. Appearances often can be deceiving, and wily and wise individuals throughout history use appearances to fool others and the masses. Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power describes this well, noting, “Playing with appearances and mastering arts of deception are among the aesthetic pleasures of life. They are also key components in the acquisition of power.”

However, a flip side to this truism is that a person’s true character and intentions can shine through one’s costume. In Africa, during my visit in 1997, I observed extreme poverty among many residents of Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Most of the poorer folks I met in many communities did not let their economic reality control their exterior appearance. People carried themselves with grace and style, even if their clothes were not the finest. I do not recall people dressing down or intentionally looking less then proud or intentionally wearing clothes that made them appear less dignified.

When I came back to the United States, I vowed never, ever, under any condition, look like a bum or show that I did not care about my clothes and appearance. This was true even if was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. There are obviously different rules in this country, but not the rules I choose to follow. The pride I carry is mine to choose alone, and I at least can make this choice.

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