If we walked around naked, people couldn’t tell who we are. They could discern our gender, approximate age and ethnic origins. But that’s about it.
To a surprising degree we are defined and identified by external objects: our clothing, our adornments and the things we carry. Following are some examples:
If I go to a political rally in a shirt and slacks, I’m just a bloke, easily ignored. But if I put on a silver badge and a police officer’s hat, I am suddenly somebody. People pay attention to me.
I attend a city commission meeting and take a back-row seat. Nobody notices me. Then I whip out a notepad and begin to write down the words of the commissioners. Immediately I have some importance.
Doubly so if I carry a camera. And point it. “Who is that dude? What does he want? Better check him out.” If I’m swinging two or three cameras around my neck, my status skyrockets. If I have a video-camera, the mayor really starts to get nervous.
If I enter the county courthouse wearing a sweater and jeans, I am virtually invisible. Next day I walk in wearing a dark suit and conservative tie, with an alligator briefcase at the end of my arm. I am transformed. Eyeballs fasten on me from all directions.
A woman slowly walks around outside her condo complex twice a day. Other residents begin to get suspicious or puzzled. One day she shows up with a small dog on a leash. Immediately she has a new identity. “She’s the lady with the dog.” The dog has defined her.
If I’m a physician working in a nudist hospital, I’d better wear at least a white lab coat and a stethoscope around my neck. Without them, I’m just another nudist.
What I’m talking about here could be called trappings. Our trappings tend to announce who we are, what kind of work we do, where we come from, even what we probably believe, dislike and approve.
Hats are trappings. A man in a baseball cap will not be regarded the same way as a man wearing a beret or a bowler.
Same with jewelry. Two women attend a sales convention. One has no rings or other jewelry on her hands. The other woman sports both a wedding band and a diamond ring. The reactions the two women meet will probably differ considerably.
A man applies for a management post with a large, old-line bank. He dresses well, but he wears a large diamond pinkie ring. Also, on the back of his right hand is a tattooed skull with the words “Death Before Dishonor.” Does he get the job, or do his trappings sink him?
Among the most powerful trappings are little things, like a tooth pick or chewing gum, both displayed in public. A pleasant smile is a trapping. So is a low, well-modulated speaking voice.
As we travel life’s pathways, we should review our trappings. What signals are they sending out?