• Melissa Volker

The Clothes Make the Man (it's not about power suits and red ties)


We've all heard the phrase: the clothes make the man. Wear a power suit, and people will treat you accordingly. Wear rags, and the same is true.

But there's more to it that every actor already knows, and that was discovered by our own kid at a very early age: what you wear can actually have an effect on how you feel.

Our son struggled with anxiety at a young age. He also never wanted to leave the house as himself, but rather always dressed a cop, a firefighter, a marine -- all strong, hero archetypes. As he got older it shifted to include paramedics -- a hero whose goal is to make things better for others. Eventually, too old (and looking too adult) for any of those things without falling into 'impersonating', a style was developed instead. A smooth, charismatic con-man character inspired retro fedoras and suits -- attire with a bit of swagger and a lot of style.

The common thread in all of these is that they offer a way to feel something one might not otherwise. To feel confident when fearful, sure when uncertain.

The clothes make the man.

I can even point to my own moments -- living in NYC as single female, working nights, traversing darkened streets and late-night subways alone -- a leather jacket, torn jeans and the resulting attitude not only kept many at bay, but gave me courage to snarl at those who didn't.

Clothes make the man.

And this is why the answer to the rising wave of mass shootings and gun violence in this country is not to militarize the police. As voices rise to equip them more, better, to provide them with the same weaponry being used by mass shooters, to armor them, outfit them in gear, clothes, protection and vehicles that make them virtually indistinguishable from an army, I cry:

The clothes make the man.

Do that, and they will not be able to help but to begin to act like the military. They will not be able to help but truly feel like the thing they are costumed as. The best among them, especially when grouped with others of the same (bringing in mob mentality) will not help but turn from the Norman Rockwell-share-an-ice-cream-run-to-when-you-are-scared-and-there-to-serve-and-protect police officer to the soldier whose mission is sometimes to protect, but to do so by infiltration and forceful attack of the enemy. And who that enemy is while on the streets of unrest, or events quickly becomes a blur. We've already seen it as a result of current protests ( Pizza shop owner caught in protest) with officers only in traditional riot gear.

It is a psychology used for positive reasons all the time for job interviews (the famed power suit), when we are stuck in a rut or not feeling well ("get out of your pajamas and put on something nice -- you'll feel better!"), so it shouldn't be difficult to understand how it translates.

So when people react to the rising tide of violence with calls to further arm and equip our police, I shake my head and wonder how they can't see where that will lead? I wonder why the argument doesn't go the other way with calls for banning the type of weapons that are used in these shootings; the automatics that can fire so many shots in a second without taking time to reload (and therefore a chance for potential victims to flee and the shooter to be apprehended), and that can, with the right caliber, pierce protective vests rendering them useless. Why we don't make them all more difficult to acquire?

And does no one draw the parallel to the arms race?

I know, businesses suffer if there's a wait or lengthy background check and our society has made it clear what's important in the 'dollar vs. humanity' debate.

Society aids the criminal.

If we are fervent about protecting the lives of our officers and reducing the carnage that keeps happening, I don't understand why the focus isn't on the weapons and not on the officer's gear. There's not a single, individual right to own a weapon that outweighs the life of even one victim when we can take action to greatly reduce the risk.

Let's take a moment with that, shall we?

There's not a single, individual right to own a weapon that outweighs the life of even one victim when we can take action to greatly reduce the risk.

There's no argument on earth that can convince me someone's right to own military-grade weapons because they want to, outweighs even one other human life, and I am sickened every time someone tries to make one.

And I'm not interested in living a world with militarized police. I don't want to live in a world where I come to fear them because the culture and their own environment has changed them so much that they cannot help but behave as though we are all potential adversaries?

Yes, our societies protectors should feel safe and equipped for their job -- but I would suggest their job should not require military-grade protection and resources. Perhaps we should consider removing the threat that makes those things necessary?

It's not politics, it's psychology.

But empathy, behavior, action, make the society.

And we can do better by everyone without living in a world where we cannot tell if those responding to an event are sworn to protect-and-serve, or have sworn to invade and conquer.

I know what world I choose.


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© 2016 Melissa Volker

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