Don’t judge people in a blink of an eye

Have you ever thought about how we judge and form opinions about other people? We’ve read about police officers making bad judgements at critical times. And in music talent auditions, many executives and producers claim to listen out for talent — to a certain extent, that’s a load of bull! Quite frankly.

An officer, even if they’re the nicest person in their department, runs the risk of ruining someone else’s life if he relies only on perceptions society taught them. Imagine, if you would: on a cold winter’s evening, a guy aged 17 walks down the block in his neighbourhood at 7:33PM en route home. A police car drives past him, he sees it and becomes a little apprehensive with his eyes now fiercely darting around; the officers realise this. They threaten to stop the car, and when Dumisani sees the car’s tail lights beam, he takes flight! A chase ensues, and after a few turns and a couple of fences jumped over they realise they stand zero chance of catching this streetsmart boy who manoeuvres the streets like he’s a world champion at it.

At this point one officer draws out his gun, seething with anger that this bastard has broken the law and has the audacity to flee. He would not be running if he didn’t! He fires his pistol. It’s a miss. The fear and adrenaline propel young Dumisani even faster! Second shot, and he slows down after ten steps, just before he could jump another high fence and make off safely — never to be seen again. On his 16th step now, he falls to the ground abruptly on his 17th. The two officers are relieved, proud of their successful chase and a tad pleased at the prospect of having one less criminal off the streets.

Except that Dumisani is not guilty of anything. He’s a guy almost everybody loves in his ‘hood. His parents worry, he seldom reports home way after 8:30PM. And his girlfriend is smitten after having seen and spent some time with him less than an hour ago — unbeknowst to her, that was the last time she’s ever going to hold him. A gentle soul lost due to stereotypes. It never occured to the officers that the straight-A matric student was running because he doesn’t trust what they might do to him, immaterial of whether he’s innocent or not. It never occured to them that public perception of them is dismal. And that’s precisely why he’d run and for no other reason.

Many a judge on music talent shows listen and judge with their eyes. Think of Susan Boyle, and how shocked the world was with her talent. And not because her talent was literally shocking, but she was aged 47 when she ascended the stage to perform her audtion piece on Britain’s Got Talent. Simple.

What was going through the heads of the judges might as well have been: “Oh, here we go again! Another talent-less person out to take a chance and waste our time. And this time she’s really old!” I’m conviced head judge, Simon Cowell wanted the corroboration from his mates to frown upon Susan as kept turning to his fellow judges with the are-you-hearing-this-old-woman look while he engaged Boyle about her singing dream (which he didn’t even try to believe in). A large number of people in the audience had written her off. What followed was nothing short of spectacular! Boyle brought the house down with her amazing voice; the judges and audience alike could not hide their disbelief.

This is a classical case of stereotypes doing the thinking for us. It saves us time so we don’t have to dig deep to make sense of the situation in front of us. Think about it, we write off people every single day based on how they look.

Considering choosing a romantic partner? Anecdotally, many guys place a lot of emphasis on how a woman looks more than other character traits. And vice versa. To a certain degree, that’s limiting. It’s about preferences, I am well aware. But I think this habit of feasting our eyes only takes over even when we’re required to dig deeper and suss out what cannot be captured by sight.

Making crucial judgements often can’t be left to what we’ve been taught and socialised to believe is important; hence the saying, looks can be deceptive.

It’s the same way Simon Cowell and the audience didn’t stop to think and see Susan Boyle as a person worthy of a chance to reveal herself. A woman who’s been eager to get given a chance to express her immense talent. They missed an opportunity to see beyond her age and her looks and thus be receptive to her dream. Sadly, it’s precisely the reason a family is shattered after losing a bright and loving son.

This is how the most crucial of moments are lost to What if? / I could have and should have … murmurings. It is in times like these that knowing how to think and feel in the blink of an eye — or having high levels of emotional intelligence, if you like — becomes everything.

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