Two friends and I were just lolling about one hot day last week, nursing sweating glasses of iced tea and talking about whatever came to mind. One was describing an acquaintance. “He’s just a big teddy bear,” she said, giving the air in front of her a descriptive hug. Then she laughed. “Did you ever pay attention to the categories you use to describe people? I’m always alluding to folks in animal terms. I was raised on Thornton W. Burgess—remember Sammy Jay, Chatterer the squirrel, Paddy Beaver? I know some toads, some weasels, a few packrats. I’ve even met a snake or two.”
I’ve known a couple of snakes myself, people who looked at me with calculating, beady eyes before they sank their fangs in. I saw what she meant. The other friend thought people were either warm or cold. She lives in Northern Vermont so that could account for her tendency to think of people in terms of temperature. I’ve know some warm and friendly people, too, who have immediately set me at ease. I’ve known others who have turned a cold shoulder, whose glacial expressions and chilly indifference made me shiver.
After this conversation, I started asking around. One woman said she sees others in terms of intelligence. People can be smart, she says, or they can be dumb. They can be gracious or they can be crude. I’ve known intelligent people who act both dumb and crude. Of course, I’m measuring them from where I stand. Another fellow I know says he thinks of others as either nice or not. I confess I do that, too. The gauge always seems to be, how do I feel in their presence? “She’s so nice,” we say when someone shares our values and our views. “He’s not a nice person at all,” we say of someone who doesn’t.
One man I know likens people to fruit—a bad apple, a peach, a sour grape. Another says he would broaden the category to include more foods. He knows fruitcakes and cupcakes and several good eggs. I kind of like this idea. People can be sweet or tasteful or saccharine or even unsavory. Some are delectable and a few are downright yummy.
This can be tricky business, this labeling game. How do you characterize people?
PHOTO CREDIT: Farm1.static.flickr.com/ 22/26044351_fa9bf19dc