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Books & Covers

Sylvain Helaine has tattoos all over his body, and even on his tongue. He also had the whites of his eyes surgically turned black.


If I were to ask you to guess Mr. Helaine's occupation, how would you answer?


(Take a few seconds to think about your answer before reading further.)


As it happens, Sylvain Helaine is a school teacher in Palaiseau, a suburb located south of Paris, France.


You've likely heard the warning, "don't judge a book by it's cover."


But it's so very easy to do.


After seeing the photos, you probably didn't say to yourself, "Sylvain must be a school teacher!" That's because over time and through your own experiences, you've developed a picture in your mind of what a "school teacher" looks like, and the picture probably doesn't look like Sylvain Helaine.


Mr. Helaine's numerous tattoos don't make him a better or worse teacher than someone who doesn't have any, but unfortunately, the way he has chosen to look -- to express himself, and his identity -- is limiting his ability to do the work he loves: he has recently been prevented from teaching kindergarten classes after the parents of a three-year-old child complained that Helaine's appearance gave their child nightmares.*


Rather than complain to the school, perhaps the parents in question could have addressed their son's fears by explaining that people come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and looks... and that how someone looks can't tell you who they are as a person. Of course, they could only do that if they believed it themselves.


Feel free to judge a book-- or a product, or any other inanimate thing -- solely by its appearance. There's a chance you could miss out on something great, but other than that, there's no real harm done.


But with people, let's remember the packaging doesn't really matter.


- dp


* Fortunately, this article makes it clear that Mr. Helaine is still permitted to teach children older than six years old; he's quoted as saying that, after an initial shock when they see him for the first time, his pupils see past his appearance.

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