What Do We Really Know?

We live in a world of sound bites. Our news, whether it comes across our T.V.s, computers, phones, tablets or our car radios, is delivered in small increments. I’ll admit, if a friend’s Facebook status is over a couple of sentences long, I don’t read it unless the first few words grab my attention.

It’s no wonder we make quick judgments based on very little information. We’ve been trained to glean data from brief statements, excerpts or headlines. In the past two weeks, I’ve realized how often I size someone up based on a short description that someone else has provided. I’ve also realized that I have painted a picture of others that is something akin to that of the sound bite.

It’s natural, I suppose, to share only the dramatic details or what we deem most important. The problem arises when others start to use those statements alone to judge another person. For instance, I invited my friend Jack to an event where he would be meeting some of my other friends. He had heard of my friend Shaun but had never met him. I could tell he had some animosity toward Shaun without even meeting him. When I questioned Jack about this attitude, he admitted he wasn’t interested in meeting Shaun.

“I think he’s manipulative and I don’t trust a guy like that,” Jack said.

“A guy like what?” I asked.

“A guy who would act like he is interested in helping you get things done around the house but given the chance to be alone with you, pulls you into hug him.”

It was then that I realized Jack was judging Shaun on one story I had shared with him. Shaun was a dear friend and when I needed some help around the house, he fixed things. I had told Jack that I appreciated Shaun’s friendship but there was one time when it was a little awkward because he hugged me a little longer and closer than usual. Jack figured he was, in his words: a pig, like most men.

I tried to explain, as we drove to the event, that I had confronted Shaun and while it had been uncomfortable for a while we were okay now. Jack wasn’t buying it. But how could I blame him? That one scenario was all he had to go on.

When we got to the event, Jack met Shaun and they talked for a while. I left them to chat while I mingled with some other friends. When it was time to leave, Jack and Shaun exchanged business cards and it looked as if a new friendship was forming.

“See? He’s not bad, right?” I asked as we drove to my house.

“No, in fact he’s not at all what I thought.”

Jack apologized for giving me a hard time about my friendship with Shaun. I told him  I understood how he could have jumped to the conclusion. In retrospect, I think I’m the one who should apologize. It was the story I chose to tell that caused Jack to think less of Shaun in the beginning.

I wonder how many times I am guilty of telling only the sensational sound bites? Or how, like Jack, I draw conclusions based on such sparse knowledge of a person. I understand how it happens but I want to be the sort of person who gathers more than the excerpt before I form my opinions. And even then, I hope to always remain open to a change of viewpoint.

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