“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
This expression emphatically declares – “what you see on the outside does not necessarily represent what is on the inside”.
In other words, be careful how you assess what you initially see. Be careful how quickly you allow yourself to jump to conclusions or let your initial perceptions guide your thinking.
It is valuable advise but not always easy to do.
It is easy to jump to conclusions. It is easy to let our preconceived opinions shape how we see things going forward. It is also easy to allow our perceptions to continue to guide us. These perceptions can be difficult to change.
Each of us have them. We have perceptions about things every day. We encounter situations, people, environments where we draw conclusions. Impressions get formed and we use them to define what we determine to be truth. These perceptions can also be reinforced – not so much by what we see, but by what we want to see.
As an example, if we perceive someone as a genuine, caring person we will look for actions which reinforce our mindset. If we think of a person being self centered or self righteous we will notice the actions, statements, or behaviours which further occur which demonstrate that our understand of who we think they are is accurate.
Our conclusions get shaped and set through our perceptions even if we do not actually know the person. These perceptions or first impressions can actually become more entrenched simply because we look for evidence to support or prove that our perceptions are true.
In fact as time goes by these perceptions of a person can become so entrenched we struggle to change them even if they are not based in any real facts.
I heard someone give an address this week which made me wonder about my own perceptions.
I had met and talked with them before and knew something about them on a personal level. However, I have to admit much of my knowledge of them has come through other sources. It is amazing how someone else can create an image for us of someone we don’t really know. And it is equally amazing how we will adopt someone’s perception and make them our own.
Regardless, when I heard this person speak, with this backdrop of my own perceptions of who they were, it left me at a difficult place.
What I perceived them to be like was not how they came across. In fact it was almost the exact opposite. I has left with wondering if my initial assessment was totally off base. Had I been so wrong about how I had perceived them to be?
That could be one conclusion.
Another could be that the person had actually changed? They had become someone who was very different than how I had initially perceived them to be? They had changed. They were becoming a different person. If this is was case then my perceptions were correct but need further examination.
So there is another option…it was merely a act, a show. They were being skillful at creating an image outside of their real character for the audience in order to dupe us into believing that what we perceived them to be like was not based in any fact. What we saw on the stage was not who they really were.
This left me in quite a quandary. How was I to evaluate what I had just witnessed?
It made me realize our perceptions can be very powerful and at times dangerous. Dangerous because they can stop us from getting to know people as they are. They can stop us from “getting past the cover” and never “reading the book”.
It made me realize how easy it is to fall into this trap of allowing my preconceptions to become the lens I look through and keep me from pausing before I jump to conclusions.
The only one who really knows the truth about someone is God.
(1 Samuel 16:7)
God sees what we are really like regardless of how we try and portray ourselves to those around us. He knows the real us. His first impression is not based on what we want Him to see but based on who we really are.
This caused me to look at one other conclusion we can jump to.
We do not only confine our perceptions to the people around us, we also have perceptions about who God is. We see His nature through a lens we create or have had others create for us about what He is like. This can be accurate or can be completely off base.
Some will perceive Him to be:
- a judge,
- a strict enforcer of the rules,
- a soft hearted giver of good gifts
- a kind hearted Father
- and so on.
These are based on our notion of who we think He is or who others have helped define Him for us. Once we have perceptions we often continue to look for things which help to cement these notions for us as fact.
But that may not be based in any reality.
It may be like looking at the cover of the Bible and assuming we know what it contains – rules for living, myths, good stories, moral lessons, and so on. But until we actually read the book we may never know.
We may only have our preconceptions or those of others to define for us what the heart of God is like but not have any actual truth.
Before we jump to conclusions about Him, it would be helpful if we actually had the facts. First impressions are not enough.