Contempt prior to investigation

vHere’s one of my all-time favorite quotes: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

I particularly like this quote because it keeps me open-minded, honest and willing to see every person, situation and place with fresh eyes.

For example, someone says a cruel remark about a member of my family, and it hurts me beyond description. But, if I were to cut this individual out of my life forever, I might miss some positive change in their life.

It could be that person was having a horrible day and, without thinking, snapped and yelled at the next person who crossed paths with them.

Sometimes that might not be the case. It could be this person was hateful yesterday, today, tomorrow and will continue to be for years to come.

And, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to speak to someone who has hurt me that deeply, I won’t slam the door shut on them forever either.

Maybe I will just keep the chain on the door in case the person ever wants to express remorse.

People do change. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

Whatever the change, I would want someone to consider giving me a second chance if the tables were turned, and it was me who made an unkind remark.

I can guarantee I am not the same person I was when I turned 21 years old.

Which brings me to another thought, which is dealing with struggles I know I have, and I think we all have regarding self-image.

When I leave for work in the mornings, no matter if I’ve had a fight with my husband, got a bad telephone call or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I need to remember to put my game face on.

Nobody in my office coaxed my husband to pick a fight with me, and nobody walking down the street had someone call me to give me a hard time, and there’s nobody I can blame if I woke up in a bad mood.

Instead, when I walk into my office or into a circle of good friends, I want to project an image of being calm, controlled and confident.

The last thing I want to do is walk into the aforementioned situations showing signs of weakness, being needy, lonely or totally out of control.

I can see it all now—walking into work and my boss asks me, “How are you today?”

And in response, I say: “Oh, I’m scared.”

Obviously, the next question my boss might ask me is of what am I afraid. Not being able to put my finger on this feeling of fear, what do I say next?

“Oh, it’s sort of a free-fall fear. Can’t really put my finger on the exact reason for feeling that way.”

Another response to someone asking a person how they might be feeling, and imagine the response is: “My life is teetering on the brink!”

Not much someone can say to that conversation, other than asking if the person has a psychiatrist on speed dial.

There’s got to be a happy medium.

It would be awesome if I could walk into work every, day and have the sort of strength that exudes that kind of self-confidence, but that’s more of a robot than a person.

Conversely, the opposite of dripping with a kind of sappy happy glow would be just plain hysteria.

And, while we should control our own lives and not necessarily impose our neediness unfairly, the same could be said for always being controlled.

I think anyone who projects a habitual calm and never wavering poise could be showing signs of immaturity, shallowness and a lack of sensitivity and depth.

I sincerely believe that one of the signs of maturity and concern for others is by having a kind of inability to protect ourselves from certain types of pain—being sincerely unable to always be cool and unruffled.

I can remember talking with someone who is a lot wiser than I am, and my asking her, “Why?” being vulnerable is a good thing.

The very definition of sensitivity and empathy is what leaves us susceptible to pain, loneliness and in some ways feeling helpless.

I think the more sensitive we are, the less calm and collected we will be. It is not a sign of maturity or depth to walk with indifference inside of despair and feel it so little that we aren’t really bothered by it.

Maybe someone who is insensitive might sleep better at night because they have no serious anxieties, but without experiencing these vulnerabilities, I don’t think I would ever fully understand love, hate or any of the emotions in between.

Patty Decker writes news and features for the Free Press. you can reach her at

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