WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
“If somebody met you for the first time, what kind of impression do you think you’d make? Don’t fall off your chair but there’s a distinct possibility that whatever you’re projecting, real or unreal, good or bad, may not necessarily reconcile with how you are perceived by others.”
They say you should never judge a book by its cover.
They (whoever they may be) also say that you should never ‘judge’ somebody just by their appearance. By judge I mean know what ‘type’ of person they might be, the things they like, the kind of life they lead and what type of personality they may sport.
Indeed, there’s an Italian proverb that says you “don’t really know somebody until you’ve eaten a ton of salt together”!
Wow, a ton? I’m not sure about that but the point remains the same; you don’t really know somebody until you’ve spent quite a long with them, understanding their goals, values, their quirks, dislikes and their passions. And even then, humans are quite adept at hiding that which they do not wish revealed yet do not need to train as super spies to acquire the necessary skills, no, only one particular talent is required; seduce other humans into caring so deeply about us, they’ll choose (albeit subconsciously) to become blind to the things they do not wish to see. This has been evidenced time and time again in a multitude of long term relationships where partners learn, sometimes after decades, that that their partner was having an affair with somebody else, often of the same sex! Or that their partners are actually leading multiple lives with multiple family members. We regularly hear story of the husband who has to sets of wives and children or the wife who moonlights as a prostitute, the criminal lawyer who practices law by day but is a pop star by night, the husband who has a penchant for wearing female underwear, and so on and so forth.
Some of these stories often lead to tragedy when the protagonist is at danger of being exposed and are so shocking they’d make Jerry Springer’s hair stand on end. Like the story of Andrew Ingham who had two different homes with a wife and a girlfriend just 10 miles apart in Hertfordshire, England. The 50 year old carried on the charade for 21 years and had 10 children. Ingham committed suicide after the women found out about each other. Another story is that of Stephen King (no, not the writer) who was known to his American neighbours in small town America as a family man who worked as a cable engineer yet Eddie Maher was actually a wanted criminal back in good ole’ sunny England and wanted for a notorious van heist that netted him a cool £1.2m. Maher lived his double life in America for 20 years. There are many similar stories, including that of Jeanice; married for 15 years to a wealthy man with two sons and a wonderful life until she learned that her husband had been cheating on her for 14 years out of the 15 years they were married, with another man, etcetera etcetera.
The truth behind closed doors is often inconceivable to the outside world. “How could she not know he was like that?” “How could she have not seen what was happening?” “How could he have not realised sooner?” Like a picture hidden inside of a picture, the chameleon of truth reveals itself to those who look upon it with fresh perspective yet often remains hidden to those up close and personal, that’s because most humans will strive to see what they want to see and nothing else. Indeed, most people would prefer to see their relationship as something that is blissful, brimming with love and mutual respect rather than something that is frayed around the edges and patched with complacency and deception.
The truth is often on display, we just need to want to see it.
How often have you heard somebody say that they like to people watch? You might even be one of those who, like me, enjoys this simplest of pass times. Nothing better than enjoying a latte or a meal and watching the world go by. By world, I mean a group of strangers who, like ants, go about their lives unaware of the curious eyes that follow their every move until they disappear out of sight. (Yep that does sound sinister yet it remains nonetheless the favourite pastime of many).
I’ve always enjoyed people watching. I don’t know about you but I like to try and work out what ‘type’ of person they might be just by what they wear, the way they comport themselves and, if they’re speaking, their accent and intonation of their voice. I’ve had this fascination ever since I was a teenager and, if I may say so myself, I’ve become fairly skilled at ‘reading’ people because of it. It is one of the reasons why I became interested in psychology. In fact, my ‘talent’ was often called upon by friends who would ask me to ‘check out’ prospective partners with the view to getting a ‘profile’ of their personality and thus their compatibility. I sharpened these skills further during the year I spent interviewing people for my nonfiction manuscript; Coming up for Air, and went on to become an unofficial couple’s therapist, for some! I’ve been told many times that I have a talent for ‘such things’ which is naturally very flattering but my reply is often the same; everybody has this talent, they just need to want to use it. It is ultimately about being observant, picking up on subtle mannerisms, social cues and comparing these for similarities to other individuals, after a while this reveals a ‘type’. I believe that everybody has this talent; you just need to want to see.
So, can you really judge a book (or a person) by its cover?
Some would argue that you cannot. I would have to disagree. I believe you can ‘profile’ people just by looking at their demeanour and backing this up with a few minutes of conversation. In fact, you’ll already know that government agencies around the world use specially trained forensic psychologists, known as Profilers, for this sole purpose; to build ‘a picture’ or character traits of people they’ve never met before simply from case notes, visiting crime scenes and, sometimes, interviewing witnesses involved in the case.
Yes, you can read a book by its cover. It’s the very reason why profilers exist in top organisations, including the government, where personality traits, capability and compatibility are crucial to the success of the candidate within the new environment, and it’s the very reason why the web is awash with a series of personality tests. These are, after all, just a series of questions thrown into a formula to reveal a ‘type’ I completed three of these whilst researching this article. Some were pretty good whilst others appeared to be pretty standardised to fit most people. Visual DNA is a popular one because it uses visual cues rather than just questions. You can get your own ‘profile’ by following this link and you can even share it with your friends on Facebook. On the other hand, if you’re a late bloomer and are still lost, unable to decide what kind of a career path you should be on then don’t worry, http://www.humanmetrics.com will ask you a whole series of questions and then will be happy to give you career as well as social advice, all for a fee of course. I took the test by passed on the paying the fee.
All of these things tell us that whilst it isn’t possible to ‘know’ somebody just by asking a battery of questions, it’s most certainly possible to build a ‘profile’ or ascertain a ‘type’ of person, you just need to know where to look and what questions to ask.
After all, the 90s did spawn one of the most popular partner selection practices based on this very premise. It was originally conceived to help Jewish singles meet and marry and rapidly became a popular and somewhat common exercise around the world; I’m talking of course about speed dating. In those sessions, participators have just seconds to form an opinion about any one person before moving onto the next. In that short period of time they have to make the most of their social observations and glean as much as they can from their instincts whilst all the time trying to avoid the first and most obvious cue; aesthetics. It’s an endless stream of information; how they’re dressed (caring about themselves and their appearance – pride), slouching or sitting up straight in their chair (Confidence/self-esteem), asking questions or waiting for the other person to ask? (extrovert/introvert, confident not confident), and so on.
So who do you think you are?
Take a few seconds to consider; if somebody met you for the first time, what kind of impression do you think you’d make in the first five minutes? Would they see a confident or a shy person? Would they see somebody warm and approachable or detached, aloof? Would they be the one making ‘small talk’ with you or would you offer that up willingly? And, most importantly, would they see the ‘real’ you or the projected personality that you’d want them to see?
Don’t fall off your chair but there’s a distinct possibility that whatever you’re projecting, real or unreal, good or bad, may not necessarily reconcile with how you are perceived by others. That’s because, as I mention above; sometimes we can be too close to something to be objective. We think we know ourselves but, more than often, the person we believe we know is just a projection of ourselves, often polarised by our emotions. If you’re an egotist, you’ll undoubtedly believe that others see you as an attractive, confident person, somebody with whom they’d want to undoubtedly share a lot of time. Conversely, if you’re suffering from low self-esteem you’ll think that everybody is seeing that ‘ugliness’ that, most likely, doesn’t even exist but you are projecting on yourself.
So what exactly would people learn after spending five minutes with you? What kind of things do you think they’d hear? What would you talk about? The weather? Would you want to sound easy going? Or would you want to sound a tad more intelligent, and perhaps touch on current events somewhere in the world? Or maybe you wouldn’t want to stick out at all and you’ll go more mainstream, play it safe by talking of things you know, project you are a ‘normal’ person by talking about your family, children, spouse? Or maybe you’d be incapable of talking about anything, you’d wait for the other person to say something and try and ride out the uncomfortable silence?
However you play it, there’s a distinct possibility that the stranger’s receptors are up and scanning every possible thing about you. That’s assuming of course that they are actually interested in getting to know you. They may well just be filling time, the thing is you won’t necessarily know that about them, nor will they about you, and that’s when Kinesics may come in handy.
Kinesics, otherwise known as the proverbial ‘body language’, is primeval in its origin and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s just about how we hold and move our bodies but it’s about much more. It’s about the space between us and another human being and how we allow this to grow or shrink depending on how we’re feeling (proxemics), our facial expressions, how we move and what our eyes focus on, how we connect with inanimate objects, such as pens, cigarettes, spectacles, clothing, and how we breathe. Add to this other elements (not classed as body language) such as the intonation of our voice, the volume, variation and pauses, and there’s a whole veritable banquet of information.
Now, it has to be said that body language is not an exact science. It actually takes a whole series of body cues to enable a capable ‘reader’ to understand what the other person is actually saying but not verbalising or, more cynically, trying to supress or disguise.
Yet, there’s one part of the human anatomy that never lies; our eyes. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and there’s more to that saying than ‘meets the eye’, if you’ll excuse the pun.
For example, a well-known eye cue is whether they are looking left or right.
Eyes tend to look to the right when the brain is imagining or creating, and left when the brain is recalling or remembering. This is based on the NLP theory which was developed by scientists in the early 60s. From this, you could conclude that subtle glances to the right would mean that somebody is ‘fabricating’ thus lying. This is a technique well deployed when you ask somebody to recount how a particular event took place. Based on NLP, that person should be looking left; trying to ‘recall’ information, yet if they’re glancing to the right there’s a distinct possibility that they’re actually fabricating the memory as opposed to recalling it!
Of course, I should stress, before you strap your partner into a chair and start pulling at their fingernails with a pair of pliers, a word of caution; just because your partner is looking right, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying, it could well mean that they can’t recollect the events as they happened and thus are talking hypothetically, speculating or guessing.
This is the very reason why many of these techniques work best as collective layers of analysis rather than an isolated assumption.
We are who we are. The trick is being comfortable in our own skin and loving ourselves enough to project who we are and not who we believe others wish to see.
Have a comfortable Sunday. 🙂
“I’d rather be hated for who I am, rather than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain