We have all heard the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” I actually used it myself just the other day. I had received my passport in the mail, and as per the instructions, I double-check all the information. I quickly discovered that my date of birth was incorrect, so I called the 800 number to ask what to do. I was instructed to bring my passport downtown to the Kluczynski Federal Building and fill out a form, and that a corrected passport would then be sent out to me. I did as I was instructed, and as I entered the building I was greeted by security and metal detectors. Of course. Because in this day and age, we can’t be too careful. So I waited in line, put my coat and the contents from my pocket including keys and a cell phone in the tray and proceeded through the detector.
The young lady on the other side of the detector told me to remove my belt and then proceed through again.
Having set the machine off twice, I am now told to step aside for a more detailed search. The young woman follows, and she waves the wand up and down my body, and each time it beeps as it passes my right pants pocket. I reach in and find a quarter. The young lady smiles, but then tells me she still needs to check a few things. She pats down my arms and waist and then asks me to lift my pants leg to check my socks and shoes. As I do, she is stunned by the presence of almost a dozen Celtic style tattoos on my right leg.
Oh my God. I would never have expected that!
That is when that little phrase from all of our childhoods crept across my lips. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Everybody has said it. And we understand the meaning behind the phrase. The only problem is we really have no other choice. Without actually reading the book, how else are we going to judge it? Sure, you can take recommendations from friends, or read reviews, or stick with certain authors you like, but when it comes right down to it, how do you judge a book you have yet to read? If you are like me, you look at the cover. You read the dust jacket. If there is a picture of a long-haired Fabio type guy riding a horse on a beach with a young scantily clad heroine next to him, I am not going to give that book a second look. If there is a gun or a knife with spots of blood on the cover, it is more likely to draw my attention. Book publishers design books covers to be judged. They know what target audience they are aiming for, and they use the cover to attract them. So then why is it so surprising when that same concept overflows into everyday life?
No matter what side you find yourself on with the new Arizona immigration law, we can all agree on one thing. While trying to put a stop to illegal immigration in the southern states, nobody is looking for a French Canadian. Is it discriminatory? Absolutely. Is it fair? In no way. But is it the truth? If you ask me if I think people should be just stopped on the street and told to prove they are a citizen or in this country with proper documentation, and I would instantly say no. The simple idea brings on images of communist Russia or Nazi Germany. Is that what the intent of the Arizona law was? Probably not.
We can all also agree that there is something wrong with our immigration policy, but we also want our government to protect us from threats like the failed car bombing in Times Square. This is why rules are set up for the proper and legal crossing of international borders. For my trip to Ireland this November, I needed to get a passport, and in order to do that I first needed to obtain a copy of my birth certificate. I had to prove who I was, and declare my intentions in order to get a passport, all the time being reminded that any discretion or misinformation could be punishable by federal law. Although I have much sympathy for the plight and poverty that brings people from south of our border into this country, I also have a hard time justifying their actions simply because there is more opportunity here. To be blunt, they are breaking the law, no matter how good their intentions were. There are many people who legally immigrate to this county every year. But they do it by following the rules. Is it easy? No. And it shouldn’t be.
Because the truth is, you can’t tell a book by its cover. But if you take the time to read the book and discover what is on the inside you can better assess which books are good and which are bad, and I would at least like to have the option of figuring out which books are the good ones before I stock my shelf. If you disagree with the rules, then by all means do what you can to change them or make them more fair. But the answer is not to just excuse all those who have broken the rules. I don’t agree with the Arizona law, but if those who choose to break the law feel safe in hiding among those who took the time to follow the rules, do we have any other choice but to judge a book by its cover.