Do you judge a book by its cover? And more importantly, do you form first impressions of people based largely on how they look? And are you ever surprised to find your initial judgement of someone might have been wrong?
I had a stark reminder the other day of how we all judge people. It was the Bank Holiday Monday and I had gotten chatting in the street to my elderly neighbour, who was just arriving back home as I was leaving. He was telling me about his 90th birthday party a few days previously, and how good it had been. Although he has family who live close by, I can tell he just wants some company sometimes as he always wants to stand and chat for ages, and although I enjoy talking to him, I must admit I am sometimes keen to get going, as in this case I was off to see my own grandparents. So anyway, I thought I would play the Good Samaritan and offer to go round to his place the next evening where we could have a proper chat. After all, how many times do we actually find out anything about our neighbours? And as I knew his wife had died just before I moved into the street, I knew he must have been very lonely at times.
And so the following evening I turned up at 7.15pm, expecting to stay for an hour or so but we ended up talking until quarter to 11. He was the one to do most of the talking – about his life in the army, his family, his wife in particularly – but every so often he would stop the conversation and look at me in a peculiar way, then say ‘I can’t work you out’, which I found rather odd. It turns out he had spent his life thinking himself a very good judge of character (as it had been important for the type of work he used to do), and he admitted to me that over the course of the two years I’d lived next door, he’d decided, presumably based on my appearance and mannerisms I suppose, that I was ‘cold’ – and not in terms of temperature either but in terms of my personality. I found this rather hurtful and wondered why he had formed this opinion, especially as we had chatted on more than one occasion, either over the garden fence or out on the pavement, about various things: family, work, events going on etc. So it’s not as if I ever ignored him.
Later in the conversation he admitted that his initial impression of me had been wrong, and that I was very friendly and he had enjoyed chatting to me, yet I could sense his bemusement at trying to ‘work me out’ as I clearly did not match up to his expectations of how he thought I would be. And although I enjoyed the evening, I could still not shake off the feeling of being told I come across as distant and cold. Do other people think this too, I wondered? Clearly some do, as in the past (and I think I already wrote about this) men have told me I seem ‘aloof’. And I find it really odd because I don’t think I am like that at all; so what is on the surface obviously does not reflect what is underneath.
The moment of ‘a ha!’
But all of a sudden I thought ‘hang on a minute’ – and then the penny dropped: I judge people all the time as well! If anyone says they don’t judge other people mainly based on appearances then they are lying. We all do it all of the time. How many times have you formed a negative impression of someone without ever actually talking to them and getting to know them? I did this very thing when on holiday in Australia over New Years; the friend I was staying with had a visitor who I quickly labelled as a ‘typical Aussie lout’, as he drank, smoked, swore a lot and seemed rather uncouth (yes I am a snob sometimes). However, the next time I met him, and actually got into a proper conversation with him and another member of the house, I realised that he, too, had dreams and aspirations – of working with troubled kids, or to be a fireman – and that the outer bravado and swearing was really just a mask or perhaps even a shield to survive in a macho environment. It was just the surface appearances. And I felt guilty for having judged him. So, it was interesting to have the tables turned on me, and to find that I, too, am judged; and it was also a good reminder to remember not to always necessarily go with initials judgements. Because while sometimes our judgements and intuitions are correct and useful – particularly when we are weighing up whether a situation is dangerous or not – at other times, they can prevent us from seeing that another person as a human being, with the same hopes and fears as we have.
It’s easy to pass judgement on someone you hardly know – we can’t help but do it as it is part of being human – but what you can do is at least become aware of your judgements, acknowledge and admit to them, even if only to yourself, and then decide whether or not you might be wrong. Looking for the similarities between people is far more compassionate and productive than looking for the differences, after all. We all like to think we know what other people are like, purely by our first impressions, but sometimes we are wrong.
What Katy Louise Did...
- Katy Louise
- Katy Louise writes about health, wealth, happiness and relationships, and the spiritual insights she gains along her path. She is currently editor of Top Sante magazine (www.topsante.co.uk). Prior to that she was editor of Bodyfit magazine (now Your Fitness www.yourfitnesstoday.com) and the launch editor of Soul&Spirit magazine (www.soulandspiritmagazine.com). Katy is also a certified Fitsteps and STOTT Pilates instructor. She is the go-to girl for all matters relating to health, wellbeing and spirituality.