Judging Books by Their Covers

Judging Books by Their Covers

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

I was sitting in Seat 19B on a plane from Minneapolis to San Francisco.  There was a man in his late thirties.  Mocha-colored sweater, worn-out straight leg jeans, and black slip-on leather shoes. As the man stared wide-eyed, smiling at everything from the flight attendant to the roughly seven peanuts he received as his snack, it became clear that this man had a disability.

His physical mannerisms resembled those of a disabled man. I assumed  he had Asperger’s, a mild form of autism.  His speech was quite good, and, disregarding the continuous rubbing of his hands, he did not twitch. But still, it was obvious that something was off.

It’s that easy to judge someone at first glance. I was no quicker to judge this man than a TSA agent would with a Middle Eastern man.  In a world so focused on appearance, I, as a strong advocate for the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mantra, found myself doing exactly that.  I did not judge this man fairly, nor did I give him the opportunity to tell me anything about himself in order to make an accurate judgment.

And, of course, as the plane prepared to land, the man further confirmed my inkling by beginning to act more neurotically. After watching Revenge of the Nerds, he shut his laptop, cleaned off the case for several minutes until it was spotless, perfectly straightened his computer out on his lap, and meticulously placed the case upon his computer. With one hand carefully holding his computer, the DVD case, and his headphones, he hoisted up his black backpack, skillfully balancing it on one knee as he placed his laptop into the bag’s “made in sleeve.” He continued by methodically placing the rest of his materials into the bag before putting his backpack under the seat in front of him.

However, even though the man was obviously different, he was incredibly friendly.

When he saw me staring attentively at him while rapidly writing notes on the always handy barf bag, he offered me a charming grin.  He even started a conversation with the woman in the next seat, who was visibly delighted by his interest in her family and favorite movies. Despite his quirks, the man was a fabulous conversationalist who truly engaged his neighbor on the plane.

The man later explained that he has OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts or repetitive ritualized behaviors. Later in the conversation, he disclosed that along with OCD, he has extreme ADD. These conditions affect 8 to 9 million adults, and make up 10 percent of the population. Despite the fact that most of us consider these disorders to be abnormal or uncommon, they are increasingly prevalent in our society.

While the man on the plane initially seemed unusual, he is not very different from everyone else.  It can often be easy to label people, but in reality, we have so much more in common that we like to admit. In many ways, the man on the plane is more human than we are. How many of us actually start up meaningful conversations with those next to us on planes? I thought so. Instead of jumping to conclusions and segregating the “normal” from “disabled,” I aspire to be a little more like him, so that one day, I too can smile over the measly seven peanuts airlines give me.