Do You Judge a Book by its Cover?

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By Stacey Rose, PhD, LCSW

Okay, be honest.  You may have done this recently or maybe it’s been a while since you’ve done it, buy you’ve probably done it at least once in your life.  It is likely it has also happened to you.  What is it?  Judgment.  Judging other people simply because of how they look or the way they act is something we learn not to do in grade school; so why do so many people still do it, especially when it causes others so much pain?

Think back to your childhood.  Who made fun of you and why?  I imagine these memories may still be clear in you mind, regardless of your age.  Whether it was because you had braces, eyeglasses, was overweight, too tall, too short, and too thin, didn’t have the nicest clothes, couldn’t run the farthest in gym class, or whatever may have stood out to your peers about you.  Chances are you recall this experience clearly in your mind because it was embarrassing and hurtful.

You may think this is not relevant to your life today.  That happened a long time ago and you aren’t judgmental.  Not so fast.  Maybe you are truly not, and if so, good for you!  (And good for those around you!) But, as adults, we tend to judge others in a more subtle and ‘mature’ way.  For example, it could be in your living room while you are watching a reality TV show or game show and you are judging the decisions a person is making.  So, what’s the harm you may ask; they can’t hear you from your living room.  True.  They can’t hear you; but you can hear you and your family can hear you.  So what?  Here’s what; you need to be okay with the way in which you treat others.  For your family members who are listening, they may think you are judging them when they aren’t around too.

Many television shows are set up so that judgment is an integral part of the show such as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and many others. It appears that human beings are genuinely interested in what others think of us and of others.  Think about it now; whose approval or acceptance is really important to you?  If they don’t approve of you, what does that mean to you?  It seems that the person’s approval and acceptance we need most is our own; and sometimes that is the hardest one to get.

Linda Ellerbee once said, “People are pretty much alike.  It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.”  We tend to be drawn to the familiar.  People who tend to judge are those who are different from ourselves.  This is the foundation of prejudice.  This is also common with in-laws.  When a couple gets married, one family tends to judge the other because they have different customs, traditions, behaviors, and beliefs.

So, what if you began to accept those around you more?  What if you began to accept yourself more?  It might be interesting to see how the world shifts.  This is not to suggest you have to like everyone and/or like all decisions they make but instead to simply accept the fact that they are who they are, with or without your approval.  (And you are who you are without their approval.)  We only see what others show us, maybe just the cover of the book.  Some people may show a chapter or two of their book, but typically, we don’t see the whole book.  And without knowing all the facts, who are we to judge a book by its cover?