Sunday, July 24, 2011
A Book by the Cover
There is a very old saying that says: “Don’t judge a book by the cover.” I’ve heard it since I was a child and I’m sure it has been around since my parents were children. I’m amazed that with the longevity and popularity of this saying, that there is still ample judging of books by their covers. I mean this both in the literal sense and the metaphorical sense. The metaphorical sense of the saying simply means “don’t prejudge the value of something by it’s outward appearance” or more simply put “ things are not always as they appear to be.”
Just as I’m amazed at how many people are still in the habit of prejudging, I’m elated when I come across those individuals that make a conscious effort not to. I’ve hypothesized that it must be human nature that coaxes us to blindly draw conclusions before doing a deeper investigation. Perhaps it’s not that at all, it may just be that we are so familiar with certain situations that we make quick associations based off our prior experience. It never occurs to us to take every case at more than face value and see the details that aren’t evident. Assumptions can be dangerous and can also be easily avoided by simply not making them.
My first memorable experience with this was back in high school during a track meet. I sized up one opponent in particular and dismissed him because of his slight stature and lack of any discernible muscle. That dismissal was a lesson I never forgot as he blew past me as if I were standing still...and the harder and faster I ran, the more he pulled away from me. The “cover” of this athlete was a poor indication of all the raw talent and ability he truly possessed. This one incident was enough to get me forever looking at people and situations differently...and always asking myself if there is more than what is presented.
I suppose that there are many others besides myself that have learned this lesson at one time or another, but haven’t kept in their mind to always look deeper...or at the very least, suspect there might be more. I often think of outrageous scenarios...but if I can think them up, then so can somebody else, except they might actually do it. Suppose a billionaire wakes up one morning and decides that his hard earned fortune should go to someone that he considers worthy, thus, ruling out his family. He puts on tattered clothes and intentionally makes himself look and smell undesirable...with the thought that the first person to show him kindness by offering him a meal will be the heir to his fortune.
Of all the people that pass him by on the corner and don’t so much as acknowledge he even exists, few give him spare change and fewer still give him bills. As I walk down the street I see him and wonder...is he really a billionaire in disguise? I offer him a few dollars dismissing the idea and go about my business with no place to be in particular. Others may pass by and assume he is homeless, or an alcoholic...or homeless because he’s an alcoholic. The assumptions are plentiful I bet...all based on the countless others they’ve already passed that were exactly what they thought they were. I think to myself, with no place to be, that I have time to go back and offer the man to come with me to get a warm meal...and again dismiss the idea, I’ve walked too far away I tell myself....a cop-out.
Is it too far fetched that the man really is a billionaire in disguise? I’ll concede the odds are against it, but I’m sure many reading this can think of stranger things that have happened. I admit this is an extreme example I’m using to emphasize my point of judging a book by the cover...but life is full of extremes and if we can accept the extreme, them we can certainly incorporate the mundane. Taking the time to realize we really know nothing about a person or situation from the outside, except the outside, is the first step toward understanding what lays underneath.
So...remember you read it here first, the next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store and read the headline “Woman Inherits Billions Over Warm Meal” on one of the tabloids. Then think of all the people you’ve walked by, pockets jingling, that you never paid any mind to...because their cover said, “Spare Change Please.”