Q: Is this a cave in the desert or is it a tree?
I have been wondering lately, just how we see others affects how we treat them…
It’s human nature to form opinions (judgments) about things based on our first sighting of them/it, but how often is that information skewed by what we see?
Can I really feel the texture of a wool sweater just because it looks like it would be soft and cuddly – I can’t. It could be itchy and scratchy but I won’t know this until I get close enough to feel it. (Trust me on this – I have owned more than one sweater that I couldn’t stand the feel of on my skin!)
I am fairly certain that our opinions of people are often just as incorrect, or at least incomplete, because we base them on how they look; what they are wearing; the way they express themselves verbally; and whatever else we glimpse of them at first.
For example: a woman on the bus with a couple of children in tow doesn’t mean she is a single mother that can’t afford a car – she could just be choosing not to drive somewhere because it would be easier than trying to find parking. (She might even be on her way downtown to meet her husband after work for a family dinner and trip to Disney on Ice, and since he already has a car there why would she bring another?) Or the well-dressed young man you see in the coffee shop next to the court-house could be the defendant, but he could be the up and coming young lawyer fresh out of law school – can you really know without asking him? (Again, I don’t think so.)
The sad fact is that not only do we form opinions about people often before we ever meet them, but we often jump to the wrong conclusions based on what we see and dismiss the situation assuming that we have it figured out. I have seen sweet little old ladies jab at people with their canes or umbrellas to get them to move out of their way, instead of politely asking to pass. I have also noticed a “punkish” looking teenage boy (big ear studs and baggy pants type) holding open the door for a lady with a stroller.
I have even noted the difference in the way people treat me based on how I have dressed that day. For example, I decided to go to the mall dressed in my comfy sweat pants and sweatshirt (sneakers and baseball cap) one day, because I was in a hurry and really didn’t feel that well anyway, but I did need to pick up something that couldn’t wait for another day. So I wandered into a well-known store and was immediately followed around the entire store until I left, despite my answer of not needing any help when the store clerk asked me if there was something she could do for me. At this I felt a little bit like she was expecting me to steal something and I actually found it annoying enough to take my shopping elsewhere. (The store clerk lost a sale, because I got tired of being tailed like a criminal.) This can also work in reverse, because if you go somewhere dressed up, primped and looking like you own the world, people tend to fall all over you trying to help you, offering you complimentary coffee and so on. I know someone in particular who cannot afford much of what she is used to because she is now single again, but she was brought up fairly wealthy and refuses to budget or cutback. So she is drowning in debt and maxed out credit cards fill her wallet, but if you looked at her you would think she has it all together.
There are so many examples of how looks can be deceiving, that sometimes I wish we couldn’t see each other at all until after we knew each other. There is so much we base on looks and so much more to see than just appearances… we really are trying to see with blinders on!
(Answer: it is a tree.)