Monday, February 21, 2022

Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover (MY Eng #41)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lies', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle' and on the same page'.

You've heard it all before. As cliche as it sounds, the sagely advice rings true. Sounds unfair, but it is what it is. It's in our human nature to place a premium on milestone events.

Some of you may have been happily married for years (or even decades - congratulations!). Each anniversary comes with a pleasant surprise. And yet, you'll always remember your very first date - no matter how badly or smoothly it went.

That's why couples are especially careful when preparing for their debut encounter with the in-laws. There's an entire successful movie franchise built upon this singular terrifying experience - Ben Stiller's 'Meet The Parents'. It's a common trope in comedy sitcomes (I don't watch many, but my personal favourite is the dinner party between the parents of Jake and Amy in 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine').

If you have trouble following where I'm getting at, you've probably stopped reading at this point and move on to something more stimulating. Which means I've failed miserably in my mission to grab your attention despite my valiant efforts of incorporating romance in my usually dour writings...

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Whether the hook worked or not, the underlying message remains true - first impression matters. We can't help it... or can we? Well, there's a counter-advice to curb our human nature - don't judge a book by its cover.

It's a good advice to heed. It's difficult to form a full picture of someone by a quick glimpse. The strength of a handshake, the meeting of twinkling eyes, the infectious laughter - all can be faked or exaggerated. If you think you can truly judge the character of someone you've barely known for five minutes - you are sorely mistaken, my friend.

Well, of course, sometimes circumstances require we make quick judgments of others. Like an interview. Or speed-dating. Or your obnoxious neighbour who keeps blasting loud K-pop every midnight (yes, me - guilty as charged). You don't need to be Professor X to form a reliable preliminary assessment of someone. There are some of us who are naturally better than others in judging character. It's a skill that can be honed.

Still, we tend to overestimate our own ability to read someone like a book. We lapse into stereotyping. Worst case, we unfairly discriminate a person based on their inherent features. A lazy eye breeds a closed mind. Bias often stems not from ill-will, but complacency...

* * *

Stop stating the obvious, you may retort, and make concrete solutions. I could make a list, but I won't. Because the sin of bias is deeply embedded in one's mental state and moral being. Ultimately, I believe we are well-aware of our own personal bias. The problem is that we consciously or subconsciously choose to ignore our prejudices.

I reckon myself as rather open-minded. And yet, I'm well-aware that I have pre-conceived notions on many things. Memory and experience is not something you can just shut out in your brain with a click of a button. So how do I overcome my bias? Simply by identifying what they are, and trying to control them.

I've been accused of bias - fairly and unfairly - on multiple counts. It's a sobering accusation to hear, but nonetheless I take each complaint with good grace. I'm not perfect. I am as guilty as pre-judging people as much as anyone.

It's important to call out people who judge a book by its cover. But it's equally important to be mindful that having the ability of calling out others does not mean that we are not culpable of the same sin ourselves. The greatest tragedy is obssessing too much in stopping others from discriminating whilst being blind to our own inner bias....

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