What’s on your mind?

 W.F. Bellais II

In the late 1970s I went back to the university to earn an advanced degree. I had not been on a university campus for nearly 20 years. Being born during the depression years of the 1930s and experiencing teenage life in the early 1950s, I was not ready for all the cultural changes I encountered on returning to the academic life. It was at the university that I noticed a significant cultural change; many people, both men and women, were wearing T-shirts. Some plain and white,  what my father called “under-wear.” Many carried a messages from the clever to the obscene. I remember one proclaiming on his T-shirt, “Everybody has to believe in something, so I believe I will have another beer.”  Yes, it is a bit of humor, but more importantly I think that message told me something about the student making the statement on his clothing.

After observing several such garments, it dawned on me that if I paid attention to people’s T-shirts I could tell what was on their minds. Now, all T-shirts don’t convey a personal message. Some simply describe what school the wearer goes to or from what school the wearer has graduated. I have T-shirts, which I hardly wear, with the name of a youth camp emblazoned across the front. Then I have a sweat shirt I like to wear proclaiming my allegiance to my university and another that has “Semper Fi” on it. Now sweat shirts are more in the line with outer wear, so I do not find wearing on a problem. Wearing those sweat shirts tells something about me and I am boasting when I wear them. Boasting? Yes. When I wear the university sweat shirt you may think I have a degree from that university and when I wear the other one you may believe I am a veteran (both are true). Whether I wear the youth camp T-shirt or the sweat shirts, you can make some assumptions about me. From my first encounter with the T-shirt culture I began to believe that reading  T-shirts bearing slogans, jokes, or a statements allowed me to read a person’s mind.

 “Well,” you might say, “how can that be? A T-shirt is just a piece of clothing?” Another counter argument may be, we cannot depend on T-Shirts as an accurate diviner of the unconscious mind; maybe the wearer got the T-shirt other clothing at a garage-sale and just needed something to wear. Yes, that’s right, but even if the items of clothing are put on without conscious thought, the selection of that piece of clothing tells us something about the wearer.

What then does tell people what’s on our minds?

I suppose it can be what people say. But, there can be no trust in that method either. People often say what they do not believe. The best way to discern what’s on another’s mind is behavior. Often people try to mask their true beliefs or feelings by acting contrary to what they really want. An astute observer, however, can tell the difference.

So, what’s on our minds? The distractions pouring out of a politicians mouth are not issues that occupy most people’s thoughts. The turn of events in the financial markets, gasoline prices, the cost of food and shelter, health care are all things that may occupy one’s thinking. People are concerned about the day-to-day and have little energy, at the end of each day, to worry about things that do not impact them where they live, work, or love.

Those who put themselves up for positions of leadership, in our communities and  nation must be conscious of what is on people’s minds—or on their hearts. If leadership ignores attending to basic needs, their leadership is limited to the time when people are no longer willing to allow themselves to be ignored.

One of the problems we face in today’s society is that much of the leadership of our communities and political establishments has been abandoned by the people who have the closest touch with the every day. One reason for that abandonment is, possibly, that all our energies, our thoughts, are directed to simply getting by. If we finish each day alive, with a job, a roof over our heads and food on the table, there’s little energy for anything else.

That sort of single-mindedness, however, is dangerous and defeats the principles of a democratic people. When the elite are allowed to rule unchallenged all social benefit goes to the elite. Therefore, it is in each person’s best interest to have more on their minds than what is written across a T-shirt.

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