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It’s ok to judge a book by its cover.

January 10, 2012

You have an interview lined up. What should you wear? Most people would suggest you put on your best suit, a tie, your nicest shirt, polish your shoes and then remind you to turn up on time. Why? Because you want your interviewer to think you are professional, conscientious & dependable. And that’s fine. But is this not adhering to the old cliché ‘judging a book by its cover’?

If you rocked up to a poker tournament & saw a 16 year old kid hanging around, you might assume they knew nothing about the game. Now, if this was a sitcom on TV, you’d get thrashed by the kid & as you were walking away from the table shaking your head, someone would wisely pipe up with ‘ah, never judge a book by its cover’. You would then knowingly smile to yourself, sigh & drop your head in shame muttering ‘I should never have assumed’. The sitcom would finish, the viewer would get up & make themselves a cup of tea whilst mentally making a note to never underestimate a kid at a poker table in the future.

Lesson learned eh? Well, no. Not really.

To get through most situations in life, you have to make decisions based on the smallest of clues & signs. For example, I would cross the street to avoid 10 youngsters with hoodies on late at night. I wouldn’t confidently stride into the path of the group waiting for the first punch or kick before I formed a proper opinion.

Let’s explore the nature of a ‘cover’. Is a CV a cover? Are your clothes a cover? Is your smile a cover? Your bank account? Your car? Where does the line end? At what point are you finding out the real person underneath. At what point is it ok to ‘judge’ the book?

Assumptions are another bug-bear. People shake their head and tut when someone falls victim to assumption, but you have to assume a whole host of obvious things in life just to exist. You have to assume restaurants are cooking your food appropriately. You have to assume hairdressers know how to cut hair. You have to assume the brakes work in your brand new car. We assume so many things day in day out that it’s perfectly understandable when one person assumes slightly more than others.

If you see a dishevelled, dirty, tramp-like figure on the street, I would say it’s fairly safe to assume they are homeless. To go a little further, you might assume they are sad, depressed & a little pessimistic in life. You have no facts to back this up but there are clues. And that is what life is all about – judging situations using clues along the way. Very rarely do we get to make decisions with all the relevant facts available.

This cliché of ‘never judging a book by its cover’ is – in my view – wrong. I believe it’s perfectly ok to judge a metaphorical book by its cover. If that’s all you have to go on then that’s all you can do. The real issue is when you judge a book only by its cover & choosing to ignore the pages that are available within. That is the real sin.

If you assume a 17 year old to be trouble despite them being polite, friendly & respectful then that is just unfair. You have chosen to focus on 1 potential negative sign & ignore 3 clear signs to the contrary. It’s even worse with skin colour or nationality as these invariably have no real effect on something being positive or negative. It’s just racial discrimination.


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