A short-short story about people’s veneer.

Posted Nov 09, 2017

Thellr, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Thellr, Flickr, CC 2.0

He was born cranky. He cried a lot from Day One, and as a toddler, got annoyed easily at others and himself. If he dropped his food, he might stomp his feet and even hit himself. Even as a kindergartner, his face was serious. Adults complimented it as mature but, honestly, it was almost grave.

As a young man, he wasn’t ugly but as he aged, his hair thinned and the toll of marginalization and self-flagellation etched into his face. Kindness hadn’t paid off so he found solace in maintaining high standards for himself and others. And when encountering stupidity and especially laziness, his brow would furrow. After a while, those furrows deepened. One of his few friends said, “I know you’re a good person but you look like a stern person.”

That manifested even in his political evolution. As a young man, he was a kind liberal, convinced that more redistribution was justified: that racism, sexism, and capitalism were so hurtful to The People that whatever job-killing costs and reductions in merit-based decision-making would accrue were worth it from a social justice perspective. But as he spent more time up-close and personal with The People rather than his opinions being based on media filtrations, he came to conclude that people’s failings, while affected by externalities, were more a function of laziness, poor reasoning, judgment, and impulse control. He came to believe that many people felt entitled to get money and respect without having earned them. His becoming a conservative made him more ostracized and, in turn, even more stern-appearing.

And more isolated. In his world—the well-educated area of New York City—there was little interest in an unattractive, stern, conservative. So his life centers around his job as an analyst and his hobby of painting, plus sometimes escaping by vaping. And while, earlier in life, he was a bit of a slob, he now finds comfort in cleaning his apartment for would-be visitors. But they rarely come.

The takeaway

We’re a lookist species. If we see someone off-putting, we viscerally turn away. But that flash we get is merely a snapshot, a veneer of skin. After 30 and certainly after 40, that snapshot summarizes a person’s emotional lifetime. It may be too much to ask, but might you want to more often try to understand the human being under the veneer?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available on Amazon. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at