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

Snap Judgement

In Malcolm Gladwell’s marvelous book Blink, he shares a story of a statue sold to the Getty Museum for ten million dollars. The museum spent fourteen months authenticating the statue. It met every standard of a sixth century BC kourous, a Greek statue of a nude boy standing with his left foot forward and his hands to his side. Less than 200 kouroi exist today, and most are in very poor condition.

The statue went on display and a group of museum experts from around the world were invited to the opening. Suddenly, there was a problem. It didn’t “look right” to some of the guests. An Italian art historian who served on the Getty’s board of trustees, a foremost expert on Greek sculpture, and the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York all agreed that something was “off” with the sculpture.

It was sent to Athens for further authentication, and immediately experts there had the same reaction. George Despinis, the head of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, said that he thought it was a fake because when he first saw it, he felt an “intuitive repulsion.”

Further testing was done…it turned out that the statue was a fake.

Gladwell calls the ability to make a snap judgement “adaptive unconscious.” He points out that our intuitive response to things, and how we come to a conclusion with little information in the first seconds of seeing something, is a gift we have but don’t use. I bet you’ve been in a situation where a truth is finally revealed and your first thought was, “I KNEW something was wrong!” Yet for some reason, you diverted your mind away from seeing the reality in front of you. Adaptive unconscious is a God-given ability that we somehow don’t trust.

As God reminded Job, the gift of insight comes from God alone:

Job 38:35-38 Living Bible (TLB)

36 “Who gives intuition and instinct? 37-38 Who is wise enough to number all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven, when everything is dust and clods?”

And Paul encourages us to seek God’s gift of spiritual knowledge and insight:

Philippians 1 Living Bible (TLB)

9 My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, 10 for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns.

I think we see, and then don’t want to see, so we look away. I have done this. I saw signs and symptoms of a problem that didn’t immediately add up. My gut told me one thing, but I couldn’t see what I was seeing. I was manipulated into a state of unbelief until the truth was revealed, and I realized, “I KNEW something was wrong.” I wish I had trusted my adaptive unconscious response and allowed God to show me the truth sooner. It might have averted some genuine pain later.

I think God calls us to a higher knowledge. I think God equips us with a Holy Spirit-informed insight. I think we look away because it’s too painful to see what is right in front of us.

What is staring you in the face right now that you are refusing to see? Where is God sending you signals and signs of warning? What is the truth you refuse to acknowledge?

Allowing God to speak truth by the power of the Holy Spirit through your insight will enable you to clearly see the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean. So open your eyes. Open your mind. Keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight. And don’t blink.

Fall Moon by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.