Thursday, August 29, 2013

Content Of Character


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin-Luther-King-JrYesterday we observed the 50th Anniversary of the famous March on Washington which was punctuated with the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. voiced what every parent – regardless of color – hopes; that our kids will never again be judged by something so superficial like the color of their skin or where their ancestors came from. He was calling on all of us to deny and repress the most reptilian and base instincts; the fear of the alien or different among us. He challenged us to look beyond something so basic and look at the genuine, don’t judge people by what they look like but on what people do.

With rare exceptions, everyone around this planet have the same wants and fears. I’m like every dad: I want to see my children grow up and reach their full potential, then exceed it. I want them to work just as hard as I did to get to where they want to go and what they want to be, but go beyond what I did without my handicaps. I want them to live in a world where they can work for their basic needs and have enough left over to satisfy some of their wants and desires.

Like every healthy parent, I want my sons to have it better than I did while still having a respect for the world they live in and love for the people around them.

What I’m concerned about is that we still judge other people on basically stupid things. We judge people by their appearance. In the past I’ve judged women on whether or not they had ideal bodies which was predetermined for me by advertising and print media. I have judged other boys and men on what they do for recreation or occupation, and I have been critical of people who don’t read books and have no desire to learn something beyond the basics from high school and their trade. I’ve been incredibly critical of people who have no desire to keep up with current events.

Some of these critiques might be fair, some are not. But I’m reminded of that biblical quote; judge not lest you be judged. I’ve judged and been judged by the state of dress and fashionable clothes. I have judged and been judged by income status and the possession of material things. I have judged and been judged by the level (or lack) of education. I have judged and been judged based only on someone else’s political affiliation.

As a graphic designer and artist, I’ve judged people by the quality and quantity by their work and not on the content of their character, disregarding people who aren’t as ‘talented’ as I am while being jealous and envious of those who are better… but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

We still judge. 50 years after that famous and moving speech (and if it doesn’t move you, there’s something wrong and inhuman about you) we still judge. Will it and could it ever possibly end? Was Dr. King’s wish impossible and have we really made strides to meeting his goals in the last half century?

My answer to that wavers from time to time; things are better and things are worse. There are horrible social plagues such as poverty, ignorance, drug use, illegitimacy that has proliferated in our communities and inappropriate behavior has become normalized in our media. If you are not “into” the “right things” you’re excluded from many aspects of society.

People we label as nerds, geeks, and dorks are shunned and have limited access to a normal life regardless of their character and the positive things they (or we) contribute to society. Bigotry towards people who chose to be different shows little signs of disappearing in some circles, regardless of what we proclaim that we tread people based on how they act. Too often these “outcasts” are bullied by those people trying too hard to be “normal.” In the 21st Century it’s still hard to deny and repress the most reptilian and base instincts within us all; the fear of the alien or different among us.

The only room for me in my life now for being judgmental is in the realm of work and indeed; the content of someone’s character. Before I look at other people (and the speck in their eyes) how about the totem pole sticking out of my own? When I say “we” I also mean “me, too.”

Do we really work hard and smart enough? Are we actually competing for the right things like doing better work; not just work that’s better than our competitors but better than the work we’ve done in the past? Are we actually pushing our tools to create the best work possible besides following the same trends and styles that were created by other innovators? What are we actually doing as creative and professional artists to make the world a better place – not just for our clients and/or teachers but the rest of the world who have to endure our work indirectly?

Rephrased: What character are we displaying with our work and does our finished content reflect it that’s beneficial to ourselves and complements our client’s appropriately? As artists, creative people, and graphic designers are we showing positive content of character and leaving the part of the world we influence a better place through the content of our work?

In an occupation where results matter, we have to expand on what we mean by “results.” Yes, the work is good and gets the message across for our client, but is it responsible? Does the finished work show character? Or is it over-the-top to be shocking and provocative to entice people to talk about the work in a way just to create chatter?

Again, is our work responsible and shows proper character? I’m curious to see what the world will say of us and the mark we’ve left behind as artists after the next half century.

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