If somebody took a photo of you right now, right this second, and then showed it to a complete stranger, what assumptions do you think they would make? What judgements could they form based on this one moment in time that they see you?
Forgive me if I get a little philosophical again, but it is something that has been on my mind of late. How often do we make judgements or assumptions about people based on the small part of them that we see?
I was talking to a friend yesterday, who was both amused and bemused at the comments made to her by a fellow school parent at a birthday party. My friend had been assisting in their children’s kindergarten class and had helped the other mum’s daughter finish reading her home reader because she wanted to change it over. The mum confessed to my friend that when she heard the story from her daughter, she had thought “Oh no, why did it have to be you. We just hadn’t had time to get the reading done, and you’re always there helping and always look like you’re on top of things and have it all together.”
My friend and I chortled quite merrily about this. In fact I offered to call the other mum and set her straight about all my friend’s parenting shortcomings. But then my friend wondered, “Is this really how other people see me?”
I guess the answer is yes. People see what you project in the moments that they know you. This mum had only seen my friend in the few minutes at school. Now I know that books are a passion with my friend. She is an avid reader and not only enjoys sharing her love of books with her own children, but ensures that she finds ways to share it with her wider community. With two older children as well as a kindergartner, she has been involved with the school’s reading program for many years. No wonder she looks self assured and confident when other parents see her helping out in the classroom.
While my friend’s experience could be viewed in a mostly positive light, there are more obvious negatives to drawing conclusions about someone based on relatively brief encounters. In this particular situation, the other parent might not have broached the subject in such a light-hearted way or indeed at all. She may have allowed this one perception of a person colour any other encounters they had. Suddenly someone who helps out with reading because she loves books and hates canteen and sports carnivals, becomes an “Übermum” and a pushy parent.
Now look at other times we make judgements about someone with very little or even no knowledge about who they really are. Have you ever tsked about an overweight person in the shopping centre eating a donut and a milkshake? Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone speaking abruptly even angrily to their child or spouse or parent? Have you ever made an assumption about someone by their clothes or appearance? I know I have. It’s hard not to.
What we see of people we don’t know or only know a little is just a snapshot of their lives. And snap judgements are very often wrong.
Oh and by the way? If you see a crazy woman in her thirties in the local Westfield on a Wednesday berating a sweet little old man? Don’t judge. That’s me and my dad, and we bicker because we love. Right Dad?