If you’ve been a People Equation reader from the start, then you know that last year, I taught myself the hot-canning bath method of preserving food and learned a few things along the way. This year, I used the Labor Day weekend to do some late-summer canning. At my request, Mr. People Equation obligingly stopped by the local farm stand and picked up an armload of veggies for my kitchen project.
While preparing the Roma tomatoes for salsa, I was dismayed to find many of them had blemishes. “Well, guess I’ll be cutting out a lot of bad spots”, I thought to myself. Because I use the boiling water method to peel my tomatoes, I waited to cut out the blemishes. To my surprise, when the skins peeled off, the fruit beneath the blemishes was fine— no need to cut out a single “bad” spot! Chuckling, I issued a mental forehead-slap: “don’t be so quick to judge, Jen.” To my eye, a slight flaw in the tomatoes’ exterior signaled an underlying inferiority. How wrong that turned out to be!
It can be this way with people, too, can’t it? When’s the last time you had to remind yourself not to write off someone prematurely? Writer Dorothy Parker once famously said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone”. It’s true— in people, certain types of “ugliness” do go bone deep. Hate, jealousy, greed . . . these permeate a person’s entire being. But there are other types of flaws— small ones, that aren’t worth noting, really. The challenge is that like my Roma tomatoes, we see the surface flaws first. It’s only after a bit of “peeling back” that we uncover what a person is really made of.
So, there’s ugly and then there’s ugly. It’s important to distinguish between the two, because our first impressions often lead us astray. When first getting to know a person, I do these things to ensure they’re getting a fair shake:
Put them first. Try to find out that other person’s “story”—it helps you understand them on a human level and reduces your potential judgment of them.
Determine what you have in common. Oftentimes, a connection isn’t immediately apparent, so I’ll ask, “What drew you to _______?” or “What is it about ___ that intrigues you?” Based on the person’s answer, I can see things we have in common and work to draw those out in the conversation.
Notice your negative reactions. This is a private action, of course, but it’s very helpful in ferreting out any misplaced or hasty judgments. If you are being repelled by this person, think about why that is so. Is it a shallow “blemish” (the speaker has a nervous tic) or a “bone deep ugly” (arrogant, myopic conversation hog)?
That’s my list—what’s on yours? When you first getting to know someone, what are the clues that help you determine what lies beneath the surface?
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