Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Small List of Qualities

In her pocket she kept a small list of qualities that she would ascribe to the various people that she met. At work, for instance, she would be introduced to Mr. ---, a banker and philanthropist, and when asked later what he was like she would remove the small list of qualities from her pocket and declare: He was dull, loud, sincere, and gregarious. She would then place the small list back in her pocket, satisfied that the man’s character had been more than adequately described. Four adjectives, then, were ascribed to all of the people that she met. Nobody I’ve ever met, she would often tell people, has ever warranted more than four.

When people learned of this lady’s list they often grew resentful. Four? they would gasp in disbelief, she thinks she can sum me up in a mere four adjectives? Then, oftentimes, they would offer a snort or grunt to show just how preposterous an idea they thought this was: four adjectives? ME? Not possible.

But it was – this woman did it all the time. Dull, frightened, quiet, and awkward, for instance, or dull, vain, talkative, and tiresome – how many hundreds of thousands of people have just been summed up by these tiny sets of words? The woman, anyway, felt that many had been.

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