I just got through reading a post in Good Time Stories called “Judging Others – A Biker’s Story” It was all about perceptions based on the way a person looks. How if a person visually does not live up to our expectations, we mentally file them under one of the negative categories that we carry around in our head. They are called paradigms and everyone fits in one of them.
This can go either way however. We also form favorable opinions of people based on what we see. A person in a pin stripe suit is generally perceived to be successful and intelligent when in fact it is little more then window dressing. That is one reason P.T. Barnum said “there’s a sucker born every minute. Trompe L’Oeil. Fool the eye. I can give you a personal example.
I worked for a major corporation and, upon reaching a certain income level, was eligible to join a management fraternity, which I did. One of the perks was to be able to participate in a rather attractive mutual fund, which I also did. While I was officed in Dallas, my manager was also the regional head of the society (fraternity). As such, he was required to annually hold meetings at all three of the districts within his region and present the benefits of the society to any new managers eligible to join. Just prior to one such trip to El Paso (we had a large manufacturing facility right across the border in Juarez), he stepped into my office and plopped the mutual fund prospectus on my desk and said “I want you to present the financials at the meeting”.
Now you have to understand that I flunked algebra in high school and had a total of two college credits to my name. To me the Dow Jones and NASDAQ were things they published in the Wall Street Journal for “other people” to read. I was terrified. But since you don’t say “no” to your boss, I began to read the prospectus and make notes, finally putting together a presentation.
On the day of the meeting, in a room full of managers all the way up to vice president level, I took the podium and made my presentation without ever having a clue what I was talking about. Soon, my biggest fear became “what do I do if someone asks a question”. And ask they did. After the formal presentations, I was approached by one of those vice presidents who wanted some stock advice. That was when a good offense became a good defense and I deflected most of the questions to others in the group that were only too willing to relate stories of their financial prowess.
But here’s the point. They only knew what they had seen. They had filtered me through their personal paradigms and concluded that I was who they wanted me to be. And that was enough. I know that some of the people that gathered around me after the meeting were there because the VP was there. This only elevated my status more because hey, if the VP is asking my advice, I must be knowledgeable. It is so easy to make assumptions without any substantiating facts.
I think I am a little more cynical today because I have done the same thing many times and been burned as a result. But the tendency is inherent. I still automatically “evaluate” everyone I meet, before we even speak. The difference today is, I try to be more open minded as the relationship unfolds. Instead of adding new facts onto my existing assumptions, I try harder now to replace those that do not bear out, and that’s probably as good as it will get. Kind of sad, isn’t it.