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Swift believes we should not judge people by appearance

The French writer Jean de la Fontaine wrote: “Beware as long as you live, of judging people by appearances.” While I may not agree with him on all his writings, I believe that short sentence is one of the great truths of all time. There have been many grave misjudgments because folks have judged by appearances.

Some of our great leaders have hardly appeared to be the effective leaders they became. I think most of us can remember meeting people and being fooled by our first impression of them. Sometimes they turn out to be tremendous assets to society. That person who is less than cheerful when you encounter them on the street may be having a very bad day. Someone may be having a health issue when they are unsteady on their feet or have hands that shake. So, we should be careful to not get the wrong impression as we meet our fellow human beings on this road of life.

I’m reminded of a poem that cuts to the truth of impressions. The poem tells of two brothers. While one is expected to turn out well as he leads an exemplary life, the other leads a less than desirable life and is expected to turn out bad. Surprise! They turn out as expected. The reader is led to believe the good one will turn out bad while the bad one will turn out good. So the reader is in for a surprise in the last verse of the poem.

Of course, the moral of that poem shows the fallibility of judging others by their actions or their appearances. There are times we need to know more. Sometimes we need to know a lot more before we make snap judgments of others.

I want to change the tone of this column a bit. I was searching among my books a while back and found a set of books I had almost forgotten I had. The set was of the McGuffey’s Readers. The set contains “McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer,” “McGuffey’s First Eclectic Reader,” “McGuffey’s Second Reader,” “McGuffey’s Third Reader,” “McGuffey’s Fourth Reader,” “McGuffey’s Fifth Reader,” and “McGuffey’s Sixth Reader.”

What is interesting to me is that each of those Readers has stories and poems that have a moral. The books contain stories that teach moral and ethical principals that reflected McGuffey’s personality and society at the time. The first four Readers were written by William Holmes McGuffey in 1836 and 1837.

Holmes’ brother Alexander created the fifth and sixth. (Incidentally, the first of the Readers were compiled the same year Johnson County was created — 1836.)

That series of textbooks had a profound influence on education in America. The advanced Readers featured excerpts from the works of great writers such as John Milton, Daniel Webster, Lord Byron and others.

I think I’ll keep the McGuffey’s Readers off the shelf for a while. Perhaps I’ll read anew the tales of morality they convey. I know it’s a whole different world now.