“Those who go beneath the surface, do so at their peril.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
People were drinking coffee, having conversations, and looking busy. Some were dressed as if they were going to church, while others looked as if they had just rolled out of bed. That’s how a coffee shop is — full of people from so many walks of life. I met some of the people around me: Stan, with a painful sounding cough, Keith, with a minute to sit and drink one more cup, and then the folks at the big table. A young man in his late 20’s, an older woman in her visiting with two women probably in their late 30’s. I’m not one to stay quiet for long, which means conversations are bound to arise. Oscar Wilde wasn’t kidding about the perils of going beneath the surface. It can be a scary place.
It was sure scary when I was a little girl and only brushed the surface of my long hair, leaving a tangled mess beneath. The brush or comb that proceeded to work its way through the knots hiding underneath made for a painful experience that neither my mother nor I enjoyed. It is a story I’d like to forget at times.
One of the stories which has continued to be meaningful to me, though, happened several years ago in a nursing home. Sitting in the bed, the frail man might have appeared to be one more diaper to change and mouth to feed, but when the young aid came to check on him, offering a major huff, I gave her a new view of him. “He is so much more than the slight man you see. With a great history of service to his country, he is so very proud.” I proceeded to share what I could of his life before this bed and suggested that she encourage the families of other patients to share a short account that anyone who came into the room could read. When we take time to look beneath the surface, there might be a tangled mess, but there also might be a wonderful surprise.
In the business world, what is below the surface might be a hidden gem of an employee if you take the time to see their potential. The person who is slower than molasses might also be the most conscientious worker you have, and good work matters more than speed much of the time. The lady who is managing to run her home as a single mom with four kids and her father to care for might be your best organizational employee. Looking away from the resume’ and beneath the surface might net you a great team of employees. You just have to take the time to truly see people.
What you see isn’t always what you get, and what you get is sometimes a disappointment. My morning in the coffee shop was coming to a close, as was my little writing piece here. The ending changed with what transpired. The young gentleman packed his things and left for his vehicle, and then returned. He handed a note to one of the women, with a smile on his face. At first glance, I thought how nice of him, but after seeing her friends console her as she began to cry, I knew he had much more beneath the surface, and I didn’t like what I saw. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
What I saw in that moment brought new meaning to all I had just researched. What I looked at was a handsome, smiling young man. What I saw beneath the surface were meanness and unkindness. It’s a lesson to each of us to look beneath the surface, doing so at our own peril, for truth.