One of the topics Mr. Sena and I got to cover in our Teen Bible Study Ministerial Tag-Team Extravaganza at the Feast was the matter of getting tattoos. I’ve mentioned the subject here on the blog before, I think (EDIT: Sure enough: here), and the topic was brought up by the teens’ own questions, as was every topic in the Bible Study.
So, I had that study in mind when I saw this letter to the editor over at Kentucky.com, highlighted by James Taranto on his Best of the Web feature for the WSJ, with the heading “Tattoos, piercings not signs of one’s skills, work ethic” (click to read the letter yourself).
The point of the letter’s author is that tattoos and obnoxious piercings do not indicate, in his opinion, a lack of work skills or work ethic and that they should not be considered in any way in any employment situation. In particular, he was denied employment at a call center and gets “weird looks” because of his “tattoos and stretched lobes.” (Didn’t he modify his outward appearance because, among other things, he wanted people to notice? Anyway…) He equates judging someone because of their tattoos and piercings with judging someone solely based on their race.
Please do read his argument. However, I would have to strenuously disagree with him. The fact that God disapproves of tattooing aside (though, in reality, such a consideration is never truly “aside,” is it?), is there any logical reason an employer might consider tattoos and piercings a negative for hiring, even for a “phone” job? Absolutely. An employer has every right to consider a potential employees level of personal discernment and his ability to make good judgments. And coming to an interview all “tatted up” and bearing earlobes with holes one could pass a baked ham through communicates something about the individual’s personal judgment. It would be no different if a man came in looking for a job shirtless, wearing one of his shoes on his head, and with his pants freshly dipped in a vat of peanut butter. The rest of the interview might go swimmingly, but his outward appearance is an expression of his personal choices and judgment, and I wouldn’t hire that guy. Even though I really, really like peanut butter.
Of course, that makes it completely different from race. One’s race does not reflect on his judgment. I didn’t choose to be white, therefore it would be wrong for someone to judge me as if my race were a choice I made. (Though I admit that I do enjoy a good Barry Manilow song.) But if I choose to file my teeth down so that I look like a lizard, and choose to have my tongue surgically split so that it looks forked, and I choose to have my skin tattooed all over so that I look like I have scales like an iguana, all of that is a choice. And the world is free to look at that and judge my level of discernment and my ability to make good judgments. (Frankly, I probably invited a bit of judgment about my discernment with my Barry Manilow admission, didn’t I? Thought so…)
Does that mean that a potential employer might miss out on a few good employees? Probably. For instance, I know some people who have gotten tattoos and piercings before they knew any better (I’m just thankful that most of my sinful impulses or youthful indiscretions didn’t leave outward hallmarks, dumb as my own were), and their tatted state does not reflect their current levels of personal judgment or wisdom. And Mr. Peanut Butter Pants the Shirtless Shoe-Headed Wonder might have been the best car salesman in town. His interviewer will never know. But you have to call them as you see them sometimes and decide as best you can on the facts and evidence you have at hand.
If Mr. Letter Writer did not want people questioning his ability to make good judgment calls, he should consider the judgment calls he is broadcasting to the world through his appearance. If he wants others to know that he has good personal judgment, then he should be prepared to defend his tatting/piercing choices. And if he doesn’t think personal judgment has anything to do with being a good employee, he isn’t thinking like an employer.