We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but to some degree we all do. I certainly have done so, and probably will continue to. It is, in many ways, human nature. I suppose it is important to recognize that our predispositions and assumptions are not always correct, and that we should acknowledge that fact when presented with the evidence.

Last week I wrote a humorous (or at least intended to be humorous) article that referenced people who have multiple face and body piercings. The gist of that article, while about a robotic barista that may one day replace human workers in coffee shops, asked, “who would hire these people?” As fate would have it and unbeknownst to me at the time, I would have a teachable moment with one such person a very short time after posting the article.

My wife and I flew to Austin, TX on Thursday to attend the graduation of my nephew from the School of Government at the University of Texas. A large part of my family came for this event, and we rented a three-house compound with pool, jacuzzi and outdoor kitchen in Dripping Springs, TX for the weekend. Several of my nephew’s friends joined us from as far away as Colorado and Montana for much of the weekend. It was quite the mob, about 18 people in all. 

I have always been very fond of this nephew, who as a non-traditional student had taken a few years after high school to pursue a successful management career with a big box retailer. He is smart and has proven himself a strong and capable worker. Many in our family comment on how much he and I are alike in our personality and mannerisms; so, what’s not to like? This past weekend I found myself extremely impressed with his friends. They were an eclectic mix; gay, straight, conservative and liberal, white and blue collar. But they had one thing in common. They all got along and were strong lifelong friends beyond their individual differences. That alone is a trait that many people seem to have lost in recent years.

The standout in his group of friends was a man named Dustin. Dustin started working as an electrician apprentice when he was in high school. Today he is a Journeyman Electrician with the same electrical contractor. He has been there 14 years. Dustin is one of the people I wrote about last week.

You cannot judge Dustin by his cover. He has a large nose ring, as well as several eyebrow and lip piercings. He has piercings in his armpits, and I suspect from conversations about his experiences with TSA, some other metal objects in places I do not care to know about. His dress was something I would have described as “goth,” but turned out to be something called “Cyber Punk.” 

(I asked him what the difference was between “Steam Punk” and “Cyber Punk.” He told me that Steam Punk is people of today envisioning how people of the past would envision the future. Cyber Punk is simply people of this time envisioning the future. I hope that clears things up)

But here is what you really need to know about Dustin. At an imposing height of well over 6 feet, he is intelligent, reasonable, soft spoken and well balanced. He was an extremely nice guy, and a pleasure to talk to. He also has one of the most impressive and confident handshakes I have ever experienced. I really and truly liked the guy.

I also learned that when they go out in the evening, and he is in full regalia (which includes an outlandish headdress, full face paint, goggles and a respirator), he is apparently a “chick magnet.” All his friends recounted multiple times that women would be drawn to him and not leave his side. I even caught a glimpse of this myself.

Our group had dinner one night at a venerable Texas restaurant called the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX. Established in 1969, it is today a huge, rambling barbecue facility, and on a Saturday night the wait can be long for a table. As the 18 of us stood waiting for that table, with Dustin in full gear (minus most of the face paint), he stood out like a Wookie visiting Munchkin land. I figured, here in the heart of conservative Texas, someone would be gettin’ an ass whuppin. But instead, a couple women approached Dustin to talk about his outfit. They were mightily intrigued.

Lesson learned. Again.

I suppose there is a lesson to be learned here for everyone, especially in workers’ comp. Things might not always be as they appear, or as we assume them to be. I do not regret writing the article last week, but I also need to acknowledge that my impressions and assumptions on the surface of any situation may not be correct. Each person and situation needs to be more deeply analyzed and understood before a true conclusion can be reached. 

People are not produced using cookie cutters, and neither are their injury claims. In the world of recovery management, we can’t judge the Dustin’s of the world by their cover.

Except for those Starbuck’s guys. They’re just weird. 

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