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Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover: An Enhanced Level of Mindfulness

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

Upon entering our teenage years and early 20s, we become exposed to literally everything, leaving behind our childhood innocence and entering the world of big, great (and sometimes scary) endeavours. As we try to navigate this complex roadmap that life has laid out for us we too, have to navigate the information overload we are experiencing, being almost impossible to dissect every little piece we obtain.

So, what do we do? We rely on our mental shortcuts. We litter our brains with biases and stereotypes. While this helps us cope with the abundance of theories and definitions of “what life is” and how to navigate it, sometimes (okay, often) our judgments come out as pure garbage. Literal garbage. These judgments are as toxic and harmful to others as they are to you.

Overall, these judgments we are predisposed to make are more times than less inaccurate and exceptionally dangerous, on both our acquaintance’s part and yours.

Here I will tell you, do NOT judge a book by its cover. But I will also tell you that doing so is not easy.

It is a battle between our predispositions and the determination as well as grit to develop new habits and thought processes – a battle that’s super hard to win let me tell you. But it is possible.

So let’s talk about the biases we fall back on; the biases that feed this cycle of toxic judgment. I have narrowed it down to two cognitive biases (whilst there are plenty of others, let’s try to steer ourselves away from information overload here).

The first is that we have a natural tendency to like people who are similar to ourselves, and we, therefore, have a natural tendency to isolate ourselves from others who are different. Well, that sounds like a boring and unfulfilling life, now does it? The second is that we (subconsciously) embrace the ‘beautiful is a good’ phenomenon, a construct in which we believe that people who appear to be beautiful are good. Simply put, life is easier to navigate when we can make such a simple attribution that what looks good is good. This mindset focuses on the fact that attraction and appearance trumps all, including character.

Okay, so if these mindsets are serving to help us, then why are they bad?

I’ll make it (subtly) straightforward: ultimately, these intuitions are deeply rooted and at the same time, self-destructive.

Yet, they are possible to overcome.

So, we like people who are like ourselves. Great, now we can bond over similar interests, hobbies, and so forth. You increase the amount of time spent with these sorts of people and ignore everyone else. Congratulations! You have now created a bubble that only serves as a barrier to yourself and others. Without interacting with people who are different -even people who are so different that you may not even like- you will never learn. You will never grow. You will never see beyond the greater picture of what life is because of this self-imposed isolation.

Let’s pop the bubble.

As well, when meeting new people, we are so reliant on first impressions – particularly looks. Our presumption that because someone is attractive, they will encompass the perfection and goodness that comes with being good looking, is inhibiting. While in some cases this may be true, we are analyzing and judging people in the WRONG way. This bias gets in the way of knowing someone’s character – good looking or not. We never get the opportunity to know these individuals because our vision is clouded with focusing on the tangible, physical appearance instead of aiming to see beyond what is physically there and reap the rewards of the intangible characteristics, skills, and brilliant ideas others may have.

While beautiful people may be good, good people come in all shapes and forms.

Worse, these biases harm others. One who may not be as attractive or as similar merely feeds the prejudice and discrimination that our world is facing today. We are the generation that can change things. We can change our minds.

When we meet people let’s learn to look for things that are good such as integrity, authenticity, empathy, kindness, and compassion. Notice how all of these are things that you cannot physically see rather, they are things you have to look for?

You can, and you should. Seeing beyond what is objectively there will only serve as a benefit to you, for your character will only develop by interacting with these brilliant, diverse people.

I am also not saying that these biases end when we are young. They can be perpetual.

Adults do it all the time (with few exceptions, of course), as you probably already know. But we can be different. We can be exceptional. We can develop the traits of mindfulness, sensitivity, and openness to differences.

We can no longer jump to the conclusions. We need to learn to take a pause and recognize that differences are good, in all facets of life. You can control these biases and not let them control you. Ultimately, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Hailey Rodgers is from a small town called Westport, Ontario and is in her third year of Commerce at Queen's University. She loves to travel, meet new people, and learn. Hailey's passion for adventure and sharing her experiences is illustrated in her writing.