Keeping Up Appearances

I am obsessed with a writer named Malcolm Gladwell. His recent book “Blink” is a fantastic study on how people make assessments based on first impressions, and how unconscious impressions can guide our thinking. The book is about “the power of thinking without thinking.”

In his book, he describes a time when the classical music world realized their system for auditioning musicians by having them play live before a judging panel was biased. While they thought that their assessment of the musician seated before them was fair, their first impression of that person was deeply informed by his or her appearance. As a result, most of the acclaimed symphony orchestras were made up of white men, which, by the way, was also the demographic of the judging panels.

So thirty years ago they started a practice of doing live auditions behind a screen, and something remarkable happened…the number of women in the top U.S. orchestras has increased fivefold. When factors like outward appearance and unconscious prejudice were removed, only pure ability was considered. Gladwell tells this story of one female French horn player: 

When Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn at the Met, the screens had just gone up in the practice hall. At the time, there were no women in the brass section of the orchestra, because everyone “knew” that women could not play the horn as well as men. But Landsman came and sat down and played—and she played well. “I knew in my last round that I had won before they told me,” she says. “It was because of the way I performed the last piece. I held on to the last high C for a very long time, just to leave no doubt in their minds. And they started to laugh, because it was above and beyond the call of duty.” But when they declared her the winner and she stepped out from behind the screen, there was a gasp. It wasn’t just that she was a woman…. And it wasn’t just the bold high C, which was the kind of macho sound that they expected from a man only. It was because they knew her. Landsman had played for the Met as a substitute. Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good.

The power of thinking without thinking is a natural and human thing. We all make instant assessments based on first impressions that inform how we will respond to someone. But that can be unfair.

Ever wonder if this is the way God sees us? I think not. God doesn’t take into account our outward facades, but instead looks directly into our hearts:

1 Samuel 16 (The Message)

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

I think part of our spiritual journey is to try to become more like the Lord and less like ourselves every day. To see people as God sees people takes a lot of intentional focus. No longer should we see the dirty homeless person, the office drunk, the struggling transgender teenager, the adulterer, the bully, but rather we should try to see them the way God sees them. We look at the outside: God looks into the heart. What HE sees there is his business. What we should see are the many children of God on every spectrum of life, worthy of God’s love…and ours.

So when you see someone today who is different, marginalized, angry, distant, etc. try to imagine what God sees, and treat them accordingly. After all, the face we put on every morning may not reflect who we are, either. Yet God loves us still.

So should we love one another.

Mirrored Sky by Wende Pritchard