It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
Henry David Thoreau.
I’ve been mulling over this quote for the past couple of days……How might I use this bit of wisdom from Thoreau to frame a discussion on some topics that are close to my heart, right now.
What do you see in your mind’s eye when you read a blurb about someone who’s 23, 33, 43, 53, 63, 73?
Who do you picture when you see a friend’s Facebook status asking you to send prayers and good thoughts for a friend who’s just been diagnosed with cancer and she’s only 43?
What if it’s a he or a she who’s 73, rather than 43?
Who do you think of when you see the letters, M.D. following a name that might be male or female? For instance, Pat Smith, M.D.
Who do you choose when you’re looking for a lawyer to write a will for you and your spouse and you have the choice between Susan Smith and Jason Jones. What’s the mental image you have of each lawyer? And which do you choose?
Do you automatically think of the young millennial female as like, face in her phone Instagramming? Or the young millennial male as lazy?
Do you automatically assume the 43-year-old woman is a mom?
Or the 50-something is technologically clumsy, out-of-shape, or a power-broker wearing a power suit who has 3 assistants to handle the business of life?
Take this thought experiment a step farther and think about the messages we receive through the media:
On the one hand, we see and hear what we want to see and hear in every media message we’re hit with– whether it’s in a political ad by [insert name of your favorite or least-favorite candidate], Beyonce’s halftime performance of “Formation.”
To the extent we receive accurate factual information about something (which is debatable, if it’s mediated), we interpret that factual information in the context of what we believe and want to believe about the world around us.
Even though we like to think we control our feelings and our interpretations, the messages and images we see, do shape and influence our worldview.
Today, moreso than ever, the relationship is symbiotic: What we choose to see and how we interpret what we see are mutually-reinforcing, thanks to the very real human desire to minimize cognitive dissonance.
Thinking Fast and Slow
The use of heuristics in decision-making is well-studied in academic circles. It’s one focus of Daniel Kahneman’s reseach and what he covers, in-depth, in Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work with Amos Tversky on decision-making. I was introduced to Kahneman and Tversky’s work during my doctoral studies, while taking several courses in organizational behavior and leadership.
This is a topic I’ll be exploring more over the coming weeks, both here and at Shinecast.tv.
Have you ever considered how you form mental impressions about others? Do you ever reconsider your initial impressions based on giving someone a chance to make a second impression?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important question–especially as we move into the presidential primaries where actual voting is taking place.