Yesterday a man delivered a package to me. Without thinking much, on an impulse, I asked him, ‘How tall are you?’ He smiled and replied,’I am 6’6″.’ Later on, I thought what a silly question I asked. He could have asked me, ‘How short are you?’ Does his height really matter? He was polite and did his work (delivered the parcel)- that is all I need to know. I also thought about all the silly questions we can ask or say, ‘What a big baby!’ (would you say that to an adult?), ‘Have you been trying to lose weight? You look good!’ (to which I got an apt rejoinder, ‘Why did you ask that? Are you saying I am anorexic?’).
In asking such questions or remarks, we may be thinking we are paying a compliment when we are only promoting stereotypes- that tall and thin adults are something to aspire to and big chubby babies are the norm (my older son wasn’t like that). Really, a person’s appearance has nothing to do with me, or with anyone else either- it is their own business. If it is something they were born with or have acquired naturally (my delivery man is tall, I am short), even that is nothing to do with anyone except themselves. Lesson learnt, think before you speak, I said to myself.
As Nichiren said in the 13th C, “Confucius thought nine times before saying one word. Tan, the Duke of Chou, would bind up his hair three times in the course of washing it and spit out his food three times in the course of a meal [in order not to keep callers waiting]. These were worthy men of ancient times, a model for the people of today.”