“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” ― humorist, Dave Barry
A favorite phrase I often use goes, “Nothing is as it appears to be, it only appears to be.” I fall back on it when I need to let go of my assessment, or rather, my judgment of a situation. It’s a reminder to look at something as neither good nor bad, but neutral; a forced perspective that helps me keep an open mind so I can see something for what it is, or, for that matter, is not.
But, I’ve literally judged plenty of books by their covers and have found several good reads in the process. The people who draft excellent titles, book jacket descriptions, and design wonderful book covers know what they are about. For example, in an airport on my way to a lazy beach vacation, I looked for an easy escape read. I found “East of the Sun” by Julia Gregson. I bought it purely on its cover appeal and jacket description. It did not disappoint.
Judging a person is trickier by their outer look is trickier, naturally, but I’ve had some success here as well. The way I see it, we are all deliberate in how we present ourselves to the world, both physically and in demeanor. Yes, it’s only one facet of who we are, but it’s a big one. It’s the base element of how we how we wish others to see us. Meeting people on this elemental level will open doors to the more complex and dynamic aspects of who they are. You just need to remember that people are more complicated than their single-dimension front. Not always, of course, but I find it to be the case more often than not.
Like the English language, there are always exceptions to the rules. In my post, Naming Rights of Passage, I related a story that highlights the pitfalls of judging a person by their “cover”:
“I have a friend who is a Chinese national, born and raised in Hong Kong. There’s a tradition in Hong Kong to give children an English first name. My friend’s name is (I’ve changed it for privacy), Jane Wu. When my friend married an American, she learned after several awkward encounters with clients that it was best not to use her husband’s European surname. Prior to meeting “Jane Anderson,”(again, changed for privacy), clients expected to see a Caucasian woman walk through the door. “I always felt so badly for these poor people; their initial look of surprise at seeing that, not only am I not Caucasian, I speak with a very thick Chinese accent. Their surprise is followed by embarrassment, hoping I didn’t see their surprise, and then the the following awkward moments when they try to cover their embarrassment…so I went back to using my Chinese maiden name. It’s so much easier.”
If we are thinking and compassionate people, we hope to overrule our trepidations when we encounter a book cover that puts us off. The best we can do is confront whatever it was that upset us by looking the offense straight in the eye, and then seeing it as something that is not as it appears to be, but that it only simply appears to be neither good nor bad, but just is.