Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: June, 2015

Judging a Book by the Cover, Part 2

photo of slob in office, dressed inappropriately and making paper airplances

Not very concerned about his cover, is he?

Have you ever noticed how it’s okay for you to do something that’s not quite fair, but not for others to do the exact same thing? When they do it, it’s “grossly unfair.” When you do it, not so much. That’s the another conundrum of life: the dual standards we often hold for ourselves and others.

You know where I’m headed with this. It’s where Mom probably went. It’s the part in the drama where you played the It’s Not Fair card.

Pay attention:
you were both right.

Mom was right because other people are just as lazy as we are. They judge a book by the cover because they don’t want to take the time or make the effort to insure a more accurate first impression. They claim what you and I claim: “Looks are all I have to go on.”

You were right because if looks are all we routinely use to evaluate people and things, we’re being extremely unfair and supremely superficial.

Here’s what Mom was trying to say. A whole lot of life is unfair but – pay attention – sometimes we have the ability to make life a little more fair. When we have that chance, we should take it.

Oh, say, on job interviews,
for instance.

When that prospective employer looks you over in a 20-minute interview, he’s trying to cover a whole lot of ground. Maybe he’s an expert in culling details and clues. Maybe he’s like Malcolm Gladwell’s experts – an accomplished thin-slicer. Maybe not. Maybe he’s lazy. Maybe he’ll notice only that you’re dressed like a slob and figure your resumé and references are equally slobby, giving them only a cursory look. He won’t be fair.

If he calls you back for a second interview, you may get the chance to wow him with your expertise and rapier-like mind. But honestly, you know and I know that if he isn’t impressed by the “cover” in the first 20 minutes, he won’t be fair enough to give you a second 20 minutes to show him what’s inside your “book.”

It gets worse.

You do the same thing – to yourself. You judge you based on how your cover looks as you pass the mirror. When what you see in the mirror is hat-hair, makeup-less face, ragged t-shirt, and baggy PJ pants, how do you judge yourself? As a snappy, on-top-of-it professional?

I don’t think so. I rather think you see yourself as a slob and start berating yourself. When we slip into negative self-talking, seldom does good come of it. It seldom motivates us to start acting appropriately or professionally. Mostly, we just keep on acting the part of a slob – because we look like a slob.

Okay, the unfair reality is that we and others default to judging a book by the cover – even our own “books.” But there is something we can we do to stop others from forming erroneous first impressions of us.

Pay attention.
We can make
our “cover” match our “book.”
Now, there’s an idea.

  • If you care about getting that job or impressing the prospective in-laws, act and dress appropriately for the occasion. 
  • If you care about how people judge your thoughts and actions, BECOME a person of integrity.
  • If you really, really, really care about how people judge your thoughts and actions, be unafraid to let your integrity show through. Yes, yes, I know integrity is soooo uncool. Don’t care. You shouldn’t either. (It really is quite painless. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can become impervious to jabs from the rabble.)

If you want others to form fair first impressions of your “book,” think, act, and dress so that your “cover” accurately reflects what’s in your “book.” When that’s the case, it’s okay if others “unfairly” judge you on first impressions. For you, they’ll be fair and accurate first impressions.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The way we dress affects the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act, AND THE WAY OTHERS REACT TO US.” – Judith Rasband

From “America’s Image Expert” (caps mine)

Judging a Book by the Cover, Part 1

photo of hands holding a book on someone's lap

What a novel idea: checking INSIDE the book.

You’ve heard this plenty of times, starting with your mother, no doubt. It’s an over-used metaphor, of course, for not forming first impressions of others – or anything – simply on looks.

I’m coming clean right up front. I form first impressions based on how a person, a situation, or a thing looks. There. I said it. I rationalize my behavior, as most of us do, by claiming it’s the only information I have available in today’s nano-second world.

Truthfully? Rationalizations aside? I do it because I’m lazy. Usually, when I don’t get beyond looks, it’s because I don’t want to, or I tell myself I don’t have time. Whether I want to admit it or not, whether I like the concept or not, whether I’m justified in doing it or not, I judge a book by looking at the cover. So do you, BTW.

Have you noticed some books with spectacularly designed jackets or covers that you couldn’t wait to read turned out to be poorly written or just plain trashy? And have you noticed that sometimes books you almost passed up because of their shabby, ho-hum book jackets or covers proved so riveting you could scarcely put them down?

I’m talking hold-in-your-hand, hard-copy books here. But the analogy to people comes through loud and clear, doesn’t it? It’s one of life’s most annoying conundrums: people – as well as things and events – are seldom what they appear to be. Or maybe they are. Who knows? Aargh! Drives me crazy.

The Pay-attention Points

The sooner we take a little more time and make a little more effort to get beyond superficial first impressions, the better. But how? How do you think? By paying attention, of course. Pay attention to all the:

  • obvious and the not-so-obvious clues lying around in plain sight, just waiting for you to notice them.
  • details people tell you – even the seemingly unimportant ones – and the details you can sniff out that they don’t tell you.
  • subtle body language that can belie a person’s words – or back them up.
  • ever-so-slight voice inflections that can dramatically change the dictionary definition of words.

at First Impressions

Do you know someone who’s considered an expert in his field? I do. Dozens. You know what’s really interesting about them? Sometimes they can’t tell you why or how they know what they immediately know about someone or something. They just know.

Now, how does that work? Well, Malcolm Gladwell’s proposal, in Blink, makes sense to me. Here’s my simple paraphrase of the explanation he gives with this story, “The Statue That Didn’t Look Right” in Blink. After absorbing tons of details for a very long time, experts in their field have such a body of knowledge in their heads, they can’t possibly search through it all consciously. Like Data on Star Trek, they search their databanks in nano-seconds (Gladwell calls it “thin-slicing”) and instantly and intuitively know when the “cover” doesn’t reflect what’s in the “book.”

Experts have so much information crammed into their heads, they understandably have a hard time pulling out and naming the exact details that brought them to their conclusion. Though they can’t give you an immediate list of reasons for their brisk assessment, inability to do so doesn’t change the accuracy of their assessment. They just know.

You and I can become experts, too, by paying attention to the list above so that we can make quick, intuitive, accurate judgments. Take a little more time. Make a little more effort. Pay a little more attention to the people, events, and things all around you to see if their innards match their out-ards*. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Next up, Part 2 of this judging-a-book-by-the-cover topic. It’s the part where I have to deal with the unpleasant reality that I get quite miffed when other people judge my book by my cover. How unfair!

*Yes, I made up out-ards. I’m a writer, licensed to do such things. I wouldn’t advise trying this at home.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” – Jesus in John 7:24, NIV Bible

Maybe the book-cover thing is an old problem?

Looking Back

photo of sculpture by Sir William Thorncraft (1877) of Lot's Wife

Lot’s Wife, William Thorncraft

You’ve heard about Lot’s wife. She gets the dubious honor of being the person whose name we call up when we want to remind ourselves of the futility of looking back.

Her story comes from Genesis, the very first book in the Bible. Lot and his whole family had been warned to get out of Dodge (Sodom) – by an angel straight from God, no less – before it was ferociously wiped off the face of the earth. Furthermore, they were told NOT TO LOOK BACK at the very unsavory place where they’d been living. But Lot’s wife just couldn’t resist one, last, longing look at the city she’d called home for a few years.

I have no doubt her thought processes sounded like this: “Where’s the harm in one last look? I raised my kids there. I’ve just left everything I own there.” (Or some equally squishy variant.) I’m pretty sure of this because Lot’s wife and I are kindred spirits. I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life looking back and – what’s even more dimwitted – rigorously justifying my mental looking-back exercises. Though my exercises haven’t been as unproductive as her last look (turning into a pillar of salt*), they’ve been almost as debilitating at times.

Can you relate?

Of course you can. We all do this, some more than others. We all look back and second-guess our behavior and our decisions. It’s human nature. The smart thing is to nip that very human tendency in the bud.

But do I do what’s smart? Do I do what I know to do? Nooooo, because, as I’ve said before, knowing and doing are two separate things. Nope. I just keep asking my well-worn what-if questions.

What if I’d known ____________?

What if I’d been more _____________?

What if I hadn’t ____________?

What if “they” had ____________?

What if “they” hadn’t ______________?

What if there had been _________________?

Asking these what-if questions would be time well spent IF I could get in a time capsule, travel back in time, and be guaranteed a do-over. But we don’t usually get do-overs: we usually get to soldier on from where we are now. Wallowing in what-if scenarios very definitely is time not well spent.

Paying attention
to lessons learned, however,
is time well spent.

You knew I’d get to this eventually, since it’s the whole point of this blog.

  • Pay attention to the lessons we can learn from our life experiences – pleasant or unpleasant – and move on.
  • Pay attention to those around us, learn from their life experiences, and move on.
  • Pay attention to what’s happening in the world at large, and move on.

We have two – and only two (making them easy to remember) – operative principles here:

  • Pay attention.
  • Move on.

As Lot’s wife’s representative in the 21st century, I could use a few pointers. I’m getting better at the pay-attention part – sort of. The moving-on stage? Not so much. Any tips?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

*There are some interesting theories about this salt business, if you’re interested. Whatever it means, we know she was absent from that point on in the story. We also know an absentee wife and mother is pretty much an ineffectual wife and mother.

red box with white text: " thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on...." Philippians 3:13, NIV Bible

Christian-Persecutor Paul’s plan: move on.

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