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Appearances Matter

Originally posted in July of 2014 after the passing of my friend, Dr. John.

When I moved to the suburbs of Chicago shortly after my 20th birthday to begin graduate school, as much as I needed to learn about human physiology and clinical sciences, I was in even greater need of general life guidance. Having been raised by ultra conservative immigrant parents, I had more than a few things to learn about how to understand and interact with people.

I had the great fortune of having as a classmate a fellow named John who was 47 years old and excited to begin a second career. He had done well as a real estate appraiser and property flipper on the east coast, and though he never boasted of his wealth, I knew that John had earned enough to be retired, and was pursuing a career as a health care provider because he had restored his own health with alternative therapies and wanted to share his passion for natural healing with others.

Early on in our friendship, John shared the story of how he purposely bought and drove a beater car when he was courting the lady who eventually became his bride. He had 17 properties in his real estate portfolio at the time, millions in the bank, and could have easily afforded to showcase his economic wealth with an ultra luxurious car, but instead, he went out of his way to drive a somewhat rusty Hyundai Pony, and made sure that he gave no clues on where he stood financially.

I was in awe of John's mindset. While many go to great lengths to appear successful with the right clothing, accessories, vehicles, homes, and even the right friends, here was a man who had earned the ability to live with a few luxuries like a safer car but chose not to borrow an ounce of strength from anything but his own character. He wanted to be sure that the lady he adored had equal affection and respect for him - for him, not for the lifestyle that she thought he could provide her with.

That was around the same time I had started losing my skin colour in patches around my face and body. At the end of each semester when I returned home with larger patches of depigmented skin and hair, my mother looked for opportunities to use makeup and hair dye to make me look healthier for the folks at church. Though I protested a bit, I secretly welcomed the cosmetics and dye, as I believed that my vitiligo made me a freak show, something that relatives, old friends, and church members whispered about, gossiping about how things had gone wrong for me.

I can't say that John's story about driving a beater car while courting his wife-to-be completely changed how I felt about myself in my early 20's. But it was definitely a seed that sprouted to have enormous impact on how I go about my life today.

In the summer months, when the contrast created by my vitiligo is at its greatest, it's normal for most people to do a double take when they see me for the first time. I've written about this a few times over the years and how I've come to peace with it. But the facet of this existence that I haven't written much about is that deep down, I feel quite lucky for this easy way of being able to sense another person's basic life values.

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I can almost instantly know how much compassion that person has for others. I am incredibly grateful for this. I love knowing how much interest someone has in just meeting and getting to know a new person when that person isn't so comfortable to look at or when nothing is known about each other.

There's a saying about sports revealing a person's character rather than building it. Isn't this principle true of every interaction we have with others, especially those we meet for the first time?

If we don't advertise our life circumstances, if we don't give people reasons to think that they might be able to benefit from befriending us, then we give ourselves a chance to experience new friendships or even just acquaintances that are free of selfish intentions. We give ourselves a chance to know another person's character and intentions, free of bias and expectations.

Nowadays, I really live for these pure moments when I can feel kindness in another person's eyes. Even if it lasts for a brief moment while signing books out at the library or during checkout at the grocery store, these few seconds can infuse me with warmth and a feeling of connectedness that inspire me to keep looking for goodness in myself and others.

My friend John taught me that appearances really do matter. He taught me that if we want to experience relationships and even brief moments that are rooted in kindness rather than self interest, it's best to appear just as we are. Thank you John - I will always be grateful for your friendship and the example that you set for me and others.


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Hi,Ben I am inspired and already transformed by your article on appearances. At first I imagined that a good comely appearance matters. As the first impression sometimes is the last impression. But on reading your experience and reaction I may change the phrase to "the first impression is not my experience" of a life-time. And you are right when you say that how important and meaningful it is not only to appear looking good but making others feel good by our first encounter with people which truly should make the other person feel the need and desire to be associated and connected for long.

I can totally relate, Dr. Kim. As a hearing impaired person, my situation is similar. David Wright wrote in his
autobiographical book, Deafness, that hearing impairment is like a "litmus test" of someone's character. Many will be fearful of the complexities of communicating with a deaf person, while others will be open and interested in getting to know someone with a "different" experience of life. At the same time, I wonder if we're really so different. It all does come down to "what you put out is what you get back." I'm sure you encounter many more kind and compassionate people, because that is what you are yourself.

I am an older female. I will be 71 in November. My husband will be 86 in September. As I grew up my family and I lived in poverty. Dating too young resulted in marrying too young, but being blessed with 6 wonderful gifts from God - our children. Our marriage ended in divorce in 1995. In 2000 the the true love of my life and I married. However, his children have never accepted me and even though they have said they have, their actions have proven different and since finding out last September that my ashes will be buried at the foot of their father's grave, they have cast us out of their lives - for the second time in our nearly 14 years of marriage. How they felt about me nearly destroyed me this time and resulted in me being in the hospital twice for stress related problems. Finally, with the help of God and my precious husband, I have realized I cannot let how they feel about me destroy my life or the wonderful relationship my husband and I have with each other. And - God has helped to fill the gap with allowing my husband and I to meet with his classmates each month for lunch and for the first time in my life I know what it is like to be accepted for myself by people other than my husband and my one friend, a lady named Sandy. Even though my husband's friends are all 15 or 16 years older than I am, they are young at heart, just as my husband is and they are such a joy to be with. Like you, I can look into their eyes and know they are genuine and that they genuinely care about everyone who makes it to the lunches. I only have one other friend besides my husband and his classmates, but I am still very, very blessed, as I have six beautiful kids who would never treat my husband or me like we are being treated by my husband's kids. To my husband's kids it is disrespectful of him to want my ashes buried that close to their mother's grave and they actually wanted to buy two cemetery plots in another part of the cemetery for the two of us, remove the tombstone he bought for his deceased wife and himself and put up a new stone for just their mother. It made me emotionally and physically sick to realize they could hold that much contempt in their hearts for me as their father's wife and I took it all personally until about a month ago when God helped me finally understand what my husband had been trying to tell me for all these months - what is happening is not my fault - his kids did not want him to remarry anyone after their mother died and even though it was nearly 3 years after her death when he and I married, they have done everything they could to control our lives since we started going together. I am so thankful for my husband's strength, wisdom and love and for God helping me to finally wake up. We pray that God will forgive them, for they know not what they do and even though it is easier now than it was, there are times when it is still hard as I examine myself and ask God to help me know what is so terrible about me that could cause them to treat their father as though he does not exist for these past 10 months of our lives and for who knows how long it will continue. They are throwing away every day of his life and they have no remorse. My heart goes out to him and for God to help his kids wake up. It also goes out to God in gratitude for Him allowing me to finally know I am okay even though I grew up poor and it is they, in believing they are above me because they grew up with more material things than I did, who have the problem. I pray God helps them wake up. Thank you for your article. I have learned through my years of growing up knowing I was looked down on because of my families circumstances to appreciate those brief but precious moments of love and caring in the eyes and lives of others who touch my life and who my life touches.

I found your story quite beautiful. I, too, am an older woman (68). I am heartened to hear that you have found the love of your life, and your relationship sounds very nurturing and uplifting. I, also, long for such a happy ending to my own personal story, after a long-term failed marriage, where any affection or kind words were perpetually missing from my husband, despite every attention on my part. I hope the love from your husband will continue to help you see that his unseeing, unfeeling children are hurting themselves with their callous behavior, and that you continue to do your best to not take their ignorant and mean behavior personally. You are lucky to have your loving and understanding husband, and he is lucky to have you. Bless you, and thank you for sharing your story. Dr. Kim's story started it all, and between you two, reading your stories has helped put my day in a very much sweeter, kinder perspective. I honor you, and send you my love and thoughts. :)

I am a daughter of a broken home. My parents divorced when I was 13, and Dad basically disappeared. When he reappeared 20 years later, I got a nosebleed every time he wrote, and couldn't deal with the no-apology "let's have a relationship" request. I happened to get waylaid at an airport for hours one day, and met a family whose mother shared her story of learning how to bless her mother in secret prayer daily for 9 months. Then for the first time in her life, she was finally able to send her Mom a heartfelt Mother's Day card, From then, their relationship BLOOMED with love until her Mom suddenly died shortly thereafter. She challenged me to make a 9-month experiment to bless my Dad with a new, fresh blessing daily (so it would not be a routine, but a gift of my heart). I took her challenge. 9 months later Dad sent me a birthday card, and signed it, "Love, Jeff". Instead of being all down, I laughed: "that's my Dad, if he can screw it up, he will!" I sent him a quick note of thanks for thinking of me, and taking the time and effort to choose a card and send it on time, and asked if he was on autopilot when signing, or did he mean something by not saying Love Dad? then I signed off, "May our Father in heaven bless you with love, joy and peace! Love, Nicole." He sent back a 3-PAGE typewritten letter about how my note had "crushed" him emotionally, he had seen the error before sealing it, but thought it wouldn't matter anyway since our relationship was so shot, and how he was living, thinking and Feeling... That turned the corner of our being able to communicate freely as Dad and daughter. A few years later, he died. The love of my life and I met while he was still alive (I was 41), and married two years after his death, when I was 43. I believe I would not have been open to loving and trusting my man if I hadn't heard about and taken that challenge about my Dad when it was presented to me. It healed me in deep ways. I challenge you to do the same for each step-child: ask God to bless them with a specific good thing daily: truth, compassion, love, joy, peace, patience, special good news today, promotion at work, answered prayer, help in a project, lasting good fruit from their labor, understanding from friends, useful knowledge, wisdom, etc. EVERY DAY for the next 9 months. See how YOU change, and see what God will do when you obey His Word to "bless those who" mistreat, abuse, persecute you. Bless, and curse not. You reap what you sow, even if it never changes them!!! Good success to you, and may you enjoy every precious moment of living with the love of your life, regardless of petty people who illogically view true love and happiness as a threat!

This hit deep. Sincere thanks.

This is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!

Kindness is a beautiful thing. It's not a popular thing in our culture, but it still exits. The experience of both giving and receiving kindness feels so right and good and is a gift that keeps on giving.9799

Your excellent article reminds me of my mother, who passed away a few years ago. When she was alive, she always loved us unconditionally. I always knew she cared deeply about each of us. She is greatly missed by so many people because she was able to convey her caring by listening carefully and looking at others eye-to-eye, and responding to what was being said to her, with wisdom and understanding of the feelings of others. She was a Pollyanna, who looked at the good in others and had a wonderful sense of humor.

Beautiful story..Finding ones passion in another human being you connected with and actually taught you good morals, compassion and a lesson in life..

I love what you've said here Ben. It all comes back to a simple idea: being completely honest and using no costumes or masks, but simply 100% inhabiting your true self and being love.

Thanks for sharing yourself.

I don't always have a chance to read your blogs, but almost always enjoy them when I do.

Dear Dr. Ben Kim,
Thank you so much for today's mail.
I am very touched by what you wrote. You are indeed a lucky person to have met someone like John.
If only more people would look at one another, care about each other and just smile at each other.
A smile is a present that costs nothing, but is worth more than one could pay for.
Today you have sent me that smile by sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you!
With kind regards,

Thank you so much for your beautiful and touching story, Dr. Kim. It must have been so difficult for you to deal with this issue at such a tender age. I totally commend you. I don't have to see you to know what a compassionate, caring and dedicated person you are because of what you do to help so many others. A person whose inner essence shines through their eyes is not difficult to spot by another person who possesses that essence as well. It may take a minute for some people who need to get past their own considerations of outward appearance, but if they just really looked and observed the other person for a minute or two, they would see the shining being that runs the machine called the body.

Outward appearances can also signal to proceed with caution and tell us how a person takes care of his possessions, the body being one of those possessions. Are they careless with what they have. Do they treat what they have gently and with care? Though your friend drove a beater, did he make sure it was clean not cluttered? Was he clean and his clothes clean? Did he make the most of what he presented to the woman that he was testing? Did he have a sparkle in his eye? The way a person treats his outward possessions can also reveal the way he treats people and other living things.

It would be a much better world to be known for WHO we actually are and NOT just what we have.

Thanks again for being YOU,


You are such a beautiful and compassionate human being AND such a gift to all the world that you share your wisdom with. Thank you!

Wonderful. Excellent article. While it was a curse with vitiligo, Dr. Kim was blessed with running into a great classmate like John. That's unusual for sure.

Hi ,I too am alot like John.I keep everything reserved until I find out where a persons heart is.Whether it's a friend or potential mate.I drive a 2001 toyota tacoma truck with topper everywhere,yet,I have a 2014 Camry with all options in the garage.I want to make sure someone wants me for me.Bruce

Dear Dr. Ben Kim,
Your stories are un-forgadable: From the summer resorts, from Alaska,
about egg yokes, the one day trip to Korea and beck, all of them.
Blessings to you and your family, wife, children and parents.

David Nakov