A tip of the cap ... hat ... whatever


by Richard E. Wentz
A cap has a visor; a hat has a brim around the crown. A hat is not a cap; a cap is not a hat. Both cover the head.
It seems only yesterday, but it was probably sometime in the early 1980s, that I began to notice guys wearing caps. Not that no one ever wore a cap before that. But before then, a cap wasn't worn to make a non-fashion statement.
My dad used to wear a cap; he was a housepainter. Uncle Earl wore a cap; he was a garage mechanic. The man down the road wore a cap; he was a fireman on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. When my dad and uncle Earl, and my neighbor came home from work, they took off their caps unless they were going to work in the garden or dig a ditch. They wore caps to keep the hair, the sweat and the sun out of their eyes.
But in the '80s everybody started to wear a cap. Kids wore caps even girls. Sometimes they wear them turned around backward. A person can't always tell whether they're coming or going, especially when the rest of their attire has no shape in the front or the back.
When I first walked into a classroom with 150 students and saw a sea of caps in front of me, I waited for the guys to take them off. They didn't. So finally I asked, "Would you please remove your caps in the classroom?"
They looked at each other, very puzzled: What kind of a flake is this?
"Why?" they asked me.
Now, I could just hear my mother and grandmother: "Don't ask silly questions. We take our caps off indoors. We take them off in the presence of ladies. Just take them off! Because I said so!"
Can you imagine saying that to anyone today, especially in the West, where everyone thinks he or she is a free man or woman without necessarily knowing what freedom means?
Gradually I gave up may mother and grandma rest in peace! But I asked Cynthia, my wife, "What's with all the caps?"
"Oh, didn't you know?" she replied. "Boys always used to be born with caps on their heads, but the caps were cut off soon after birth. I think they called it circumcision. But people don't believe in that sort of thing anymore; so they just leave the caps on after the kids are born. Unless their heads are diseased, some men die with them on."
It made sense to me.
Let me tell you why it's not good to die with them on. Let me tell you why my mother and grandmother were right.
First, there doesn't have to be a "reason" for everything you do. Some things are like what Alexis de Tocqueville called "habits of the heart." The reason is in the habit. Reason never exists only in your head. It belongs to all of us together, or not at all.
Secondly, habits of the heart are sometimes what people used to call manners, but they are what make human life more human. They are signs of community of the fact that none of us is ever alone in the world. It's not so much a matter of what I believe or think; it's what we believe or think.
Thirdly, habits of the heart means life is not doing as I please, but doing what is pleasing. What is pleasing? Well, beauty is pleasing. Beauty is a good habit; it's learned. It isn't just a matter of, "I think this is pleasing, you think that is pleasing." There is no beauty that doesn't grow, get better.
Civility is pleasing, too. It is an aspect of beauty. When people live together, they can either live in chaos and conflict, or they can learn little secrets, little habits of thought, thoughtfulness and behavior that show a sense of the beauty of order. Respect and reverence are pleasing. They show that I recognize a sacredness to existence, and you are part of that sacredness, no matter what your race or tradition may be.
So beauty, civility, respect and reverence abide these three. Ask yourself, how have my tastes, my manners my language changed? What habits of the heart nurture my behavior? A tip of the hat ... cap ... whatever ... to habits of the heart.
A typographical error appeared in the Jan. 12 Horizon's column. Regarding Colin Powell's appointment, it should have read: "Perhaps he should have been appointed as minister of defense."
Richard E. Wentz is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and resides in Strawberry. He is the author of numerous books and articles and is also a professional storyteller. His column appears on the first and third Fridays of each month. Dr. Wentz welcomes comments and questions. Send them to the Payson Roundup, P.O. Box 2520, Payson, AZ 85547, C/O Richard E. Wentz.

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