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Not Judging A Book By Its Cover

It’s an old cliché yes but when it comes to mental health issues, it is one worth bearing in mind.

It is easy to make snap judgements, it’s a natural instinct. They come from the primitive part of our brain that allowed our prehistoric ancestors to make all those snap decisions. Like deciding if a big mound is a sabre tooth tiger waiting pounce or just a big, old rock. The quicker the thinking the longer you lived back then. Circumstances may change but the wiring inside our heads has not.

We make snap judgements, especially with other people. We make them on all manner of things. Judgements that can be so fast we are not always aware we are making them. Here the unconscious takes a lot of responsibility and more often than not we accept it.

No Consideration

Take this example. You instantly think a person behind the counter serving is horrible just because they didn’t serve you with a smile. A massive and everlasting snap judgement is made on a slight facial expression. The lack of a friendly signal makes them a potential threat, to be wary of. The primitive brain jumps straight in here, leaving the rational part to catch up.

The rational part takes so much else into consideration. What is happening with them that day, that week, if they are dealing with some personal issues or if they have not had enough sleep etc. However, the primitive brain, thinks it is protecting by getting there first. The worrying thing is, without a conscious effort, the rational brain will not intervene. It has bigger things to worry about. So the snap judgement remains:

‘Never going back to that coffee shop’

Mental Health

Here’s my point. These snap judgements that we make, all the time, reinforce the stigma associated with mental health. And they are doing it in a couple of ways.

First and foremost we are never in a position to make a judgement about someone based on just one encounter or worse still, reading about them in the paper. We don’t just don’t know them well enough to make that call. We have no idea of what is going on in their heads. What motivates them or what has played a role in their development. We may think that we are experts at ‘reading or ‘knowing’ people but we are really not. Our primitive brains are simply not that sophisticated.

Behaviour that does not readily fit into our narrow perception of what is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ does not necessarily equal bad or wrong behaviour. Too many times, people with a mental health issue are scorned, looked down on, judged for something of which they have very little control. Now I am not saying that everyone we encounter and make a snap judgement with has a mental health issue. But a lot will and others may be dealing with personal issues.

So for that reason rather than just let the unconscious make the call, we should try and consciously ask ourselves why a person acts in a certain way toward us. Yes, it takes more effort and we have to pay much more attention to things but when we become the better person.

Placing people on pedestals

Next is when a firmly held judgement of someone is broken. This will be more likely a positive judgement (Because, yes it works both ways sometimes snap judgement are positive, but no less wrong!). This can be where a person we admire or look up to displays an all too human weakness. In these instances, we feel cheated or let down by that person. It happens with people we know but more often than not with people in the public eye.

Here, I am thinking of the recent story involving Naomi Osaka, the tennis player. Her struggles with mental health issues have been widely debated in the public sphere and unfortunately mocked by many. These snap judgements place people on pedestals; they do not stand on them, themselves. We then get angry If they don’t stay on these things. Which makes no sense at all.

In Naomi’s case, it shows just how scared many people are of mental health issues, terrified to admit that if the people they admire are prone to them, maybe they are too?

We have a choice

Judging a book by its cover is never a good thing. We need to read at least the first couple of chapters before we even dream of making a judgement. The amazing thing here with this is that we have a choice, first, we get to decide to make a snap judgement then second we can choose whether to go along with it or to question it. It just takes effort. I for one think that effort is absolutely worth it.

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