We were at the airport again. And for the nth time in so many years, our children were redistributing the items in their suitcases to meet the airlines' restrictive weight requirements.
While our kids were busy deciding if they could do with five bottles of shampoo instead of six and whether they could possibly leave that extra pair of black loafers at home, my husband struck up a conversation with the airline clerk who was assisting us.
"Mr. Morrissey," he began, "do you enjoy your job?"
Clearly Mr. Morrissey had been waiting a long time for someone to pose this question because my husband got an earful. "I certainly don't. I've been doing this job for 25 years. It used to be that people thought flying was special. They got dressed up to get on a plane and they treated us with courtesy. Now it's become so routine. People board the plane in grungy attire and their behavior matches their clothing. They're rude and demanding. I can't wait to retire."
Unfortunately (or fortunately) we were spared a further expostulation of Mr. Morrissey's views on air travelers because at that moment our children succeeded in rearranging and even shutting their suitcases, only sacrificing two plastic hangers and a shower caddy in the bargain.
Sometimes behavior change has to occur from the outside in.
But something Mr. Morrissey said struck a resonant chord and got me thinking. I agree with him that there is a connection between attire and behavior. I believe that the way we dress affects how we think about ourselves and the job at hand -- and that we behave accordingly.
If we dress for work in formal clothing, we will treat our job very seriously. If we dress in beach wear, it's harder to concentrate. We feel differently about ourselves. Our whole attitude becomes more casual. I used to make sure to dress up for exams in college because it helped me treat them seriously.
If we greet our spouse at the end of the day in "sweats," it has an impact on our attitude towards our relationship. Are we making it a priority or treating it cavalierly? Are we thinking of our mate's needs or our own? Are we choosing our own comfort at the cost of our marriage?
If we as women wear very little clothing, are we able to still think of ourselves as dignified and deserving of respect? Or do we adopt the casual attitude towards ourselves and our bodies that our clothing seems to suggest?
I'm not even speaking of how others react to us (although that may affect how we think of ourselves). I'm just talking about our own response. How we dress affects our self-image, like it or not.
If we decide that Shabbos is best spent in pajamas, how does that impact our attitude towards that holy day? Towards the experience of entertaining the Divine presence? Surely differently than if we put on our finest clothing.
Mr. Morrissey made another interesting point. "People used to think flying was special." We dress up for events/people/experiences that are special. But nothing seems special any more. Not our jobs (Aren't we lucky to have one? Don't we want to behave responsibly?). Not our marriages (see preceding comment in parentheses!). Not our Shabbos. And worst of all, not even ourselves.
Sometimes behavior change has to occur from the outside in. To recapture that sense of precious uniqueness, we have to dress like it matters -- our careers, our marriages, our bodies and our souls. It's a small change that can make a big difference. Think of it as a great excuse to go shopping!