Recently I was listening to an interview about architecture. One comment stuck with me. “We judge a building by it’s skin.” In other words, if a building is made of brick, we call it a brick building. If it’s concrete, we call it a concrete building, a wood building and so on. It doesn’t matter what’s inside, we always describe it by it’s appearance. We are always judging things by their skin.
My sister recently painted the outside of her house. Her neighbors told her that they were thrown off because for years they’ve been telling people to “turn at the pink house” and now their house if no longer pink. Here in Edmonton we have a city hall with pyramids. Unless you’re from here, you don’t know what’s inside – or rather under – those peaks so you would call it “the building with the pyramids on the roof.”
What we see on the outside is what we refer to. It’s the easiest thing to see. What is true for buildings is also true for people.
We tend to describe people by their appearance. The blonde. The tall one. The one in orange. The one with the beard. The Asian. We respond to what we see.
But, like buildings, that’s not really who we are. And often our outsides don’t really match our insides.
I have the unfortunate genetics that cause my mouth to naturally turn downwards. When I am wearing a neutral expression, I look angry no matter what my actual mood. I have been told many times that I look mean. I’ve been told that I was not the aloof, grouchy person that was expected once someone got to know me. My boyfriend is always telling me that I look nasty when I’m concentrating.
I know this about my face so I make an effort to smile, even slightly, as much as possible. And I can’t do it 24/7 either.
I’m certainly not immune judging things by their skin. I’ve met many people that I thought were one way from first impressions and discovered I was completely wrong. Whether it’s the way they dress, how they speak, their face, their gender, their race – there are a lot of outer features we use as guides to make an initial judgement.
There’s no use in judging yourself as a bad person for using these visual cues. It’s a normal, natural way that your subconscious uses to keep you safe. The step to take now is to be aware of it. Once aware of judgement, it’s much easier to look beyond it and determine if it’s correct. Sometimes it is correct, sometimes it isn’t.
Years ago, I noticed that when I was driving past someone that “looked sketchy” because they were aboriginal or wearing biker gear or simply seemed shifty, I would lock my doors. Once I noticed I was doing this, I became aware of it and was more willing to be less reactionary. Yes, there are situations when it’s good to be cautious. And, on the other hand, driving through Edmonton on a sunny afternoon is probably pretty safe.
It’s easy to judge that a young man with his pants down around the bottom half of his butt is a slacker. It’s easy to judge that a woman in a short skirt is looking for sexual attention. It’s easy to judge that someone in frumpy clothes doesn’t care about themselves. It’s easy to judge that a 40 year old is more responsible than a 20 year old. It’s easy to judge that someone overweight is unhealthy. It’s easy to judge that someone dressed up or in really good shape is overly concerned about perception.
I’m sure you can come up with people or situations where all of these judgments have been proved wrong in your own life or by someone you know.
After becoming aware of our judgments, the next step is not to try to irradiate them. That is impossible. The next step is to test them. How do you do that? Simple.
TALK TO PEOPLE!
It’s when we get to know someone that we find out if our initial impressions were true or not. And, very often, they are not.
- Acknowledge that it’s natural to judge things by their skin.
- Notice when you do it.
- Test your judgement by getting to know people or simply by asking questions.
It’s easy, and hard. And so worth it. We miss out on so much by making assumptions and not testing their truth or falsehood. Take a step today and test out one of your judgments by getting to know someone a little better. Just like a building, we are so much more than what’s on the surface.