Dressing For Stupidity
Enough people have commented on my attire recently that I think it is worth explaining.
See my note.
Left to my own devices, I would wear jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt with a pocket just about every day. When it gets cold, I add a shirt, or a sweater, or both. I like having a shirt pocket for my phone and my earbuds. I rarely dress that way.
Richard Kilburg gave a talk at the Institute back in March on reverence and temperance in the workplace. Buried in that talk was a discussion of how we use our attire to show respect for each other in the workplace. After the talk, Carl Johnson and I had a discussion about the act of putting on nice clothes, and how that can serve as a reminder of the respect and courtesy we owe each other. Putting on a clean, pressed shirt is both a show of respect, and reminder to oneself to act with civility.
Dr. Kilburg also mentioned during his talk that much disrespect comes from stupidity. Temperance, including self-restrain in the face of provocation, and moderation of our own passions, is an act of anti-stupidity. It is an act of personal emotional awareness and social competence. Building competency requires awareness, and awareness benefits from reminders.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning, ” Dr. Kilburg said, “and says, ‘I want to be stupid today.'” That may be true, but it is certainly the case that I wake up in the morning, after too little sleep, or in pain, or already angry or fearful about what the day will bring, and say to myself, “I’m gonna be stupid today.”
Drawing on Dr. Kilburg’s talk and my conversation with Carl, I decided that what I wear could serve as a reminder to myself to be a little less stupid.
What I choose to wear in the morning reflects my expectation of my need to be reminded. On reasonably good days, I wear a clean shirt and jeans. On moderately good days, dress shirts and slacks. On moderately bad days, I add a tie, and on really bad days, expect a suit. To quote Sheryl Bruff, “God help us if you ever show up in a tux!”
I’m aware, though I didn’t quite intend, that my sartorial selections have also become a kind of warning system for people who are paying attention. I think it is better to telegraph my mood this way, and be able to grin and make a joke of my choice in ties, than to growl and snap at people. (Growling and scowling were my old methods.) I will still tend to be sarcastic and cynical, but I try to be less personal about it.
So on my best-dressed days, I ask for your compassion and mercy. On my worst dressed days, be happy with me. Once the braces come off, with some luck, perhaps I’ll come dressed every day like Tony Krueger.