Behind the shell: What you see may not be what you get

Guest Column

On the television show, Once Upon a Time, a program inspired by Disney characters, Belle, of Beauty and the Beast, proclaims words of wisdom when she says, “Sometimes, the best book has the dustiest jacket. And, sometimes, the best teacup is chipped.”

As a species, we are socially and culturally conditioned to look at and judge others based on external adornment and outward behavioral displays. At the same time, as a species, we are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that it is next to impossible to accurately assess the whole of who a person is, absent of the story their life tells.

Imagine that the basis on which others assess and analyze you stems from a single external quality or behavior. Now imagine you’re struggling through a family crisis and someone who doesn’t know you witnesses you slamming a door in frustration or crying in exasperation and, on this observation alone, they determine you’re a hothead, lacking self-control or an emotional basket case.

Most people would be appalled by such hasty generalizations derived from such limited encounters. Yet many, if not most, of us are guilty of wielding such judgments on almost a daily basis. Author Michael Josephson says it this way: “We judge ourselves by our best intentions and most noble acts, but we will be judged by our last worst act.”

If there’s one thing we can accomplish pertaining to our connections with others, perhaps it should be to recognize and understand that what we see is seldom what we get. People are so much more than we ever get the chance to discover. We would do well to envision the possibilities of what lies behind the outer shell we are so quick to size up and dismiss without a second thought. Behind that shell is a person worth seeing and acknowledging.

So, picture this: Behind the wheelchair is a veteran who went to battle to fight for the freedoms we enjoy. Behind the speech impediment is a child who struggles to express just how frustrated she feels that no one seems to understand her anxiety and fear each time she opens her mouth to speak. Behind the disheveled appearance is a single mom who manages every day to get her three children fed, clothed and in school before the bell rings so she can go clean houses to ensure there’s at least one more meal on the table. Behind the unappealing body type is a high school student who has struggled with weight and has been mocked every day of his educational experience. Behind the dirty skin is a father who has lost his job and is on the streets trying to do anything he can to keep his family from losing their home. Behind the wrinkles is an elderly person who has lived a rich life, filled with imaginative stories, but no one wants to hear about them. Behind the tears is a young woman who finds out she’s pregnant and has no idea how she can possibly tell her parents, whom she fears will disown her. Behind the apparent mockery is a young man who has been told how stupid and incapable he is and who is now considering taking his own life. Behind the black and blue bruised face is a battered woman seeking shelter and safety from the person she trusted and who has been tormenting her for years.

If, through our imagination alone, we can envision the possibility that what shows on the outside isn’t necessarily reflective of what’s on the inside then, certainly, we can admit that what we see isn’t always what we get.

Now, picture this: Behind the smile is a person who wants to know who you are.

About Terilyn Goins, Ph.D. 66 Articles
Dr. Terilyn J. Goins is a motivational speaker/vocalist, trainer and coach. She offers a wide variety of training and motivational music programs. Goins creates programs that educate, inspire and challenge participants. Visit or reach her at 757-303-7807 or by email at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.