Of first impressions and empathy

 


A while ago, I chanced upon a brilliant book. This was one of the very few non-fiction books that I could confidently label as a 'page-turner'. Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. That book was Blink, by  Malcolm Gladwell.

The premise of the book was fairly simple. The author points out how, very often, our first impressions really are the best impressions. And these don't have to take five minutes or five seconds. They can be formed within a blink of an eye. More often than not, we don't even realise that we have formed the impression, but the unconscious brain has registered it, for retrieval at a later date.

“We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it...We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making. 



 But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking

Why did I recall this book today? It was because of this photograph:



Source: http://www.cbc.ca/


When I saw this picture attached to this article, my first reaction was two-fold; one was awe at how fit she looked and the other, which occurred simultaneously, was one of sadness.

Why was I sad? Because of the caption.

A lot of people saw this photo. A ton of reactions poured in. Many complimented her commitment, some were openly envious of her achievement and plenty more began to attack her for being insensitive, supercilious and incapable of understanding the limitations of many mothers who couldn't exercise for health reasons.

In response to the hate messages she received via Facebook, she gave an interview and an apology (of sorts). But it still didn't take away the sting of what the picture had done, in the first place.

Looking at the picture in the 'blink of an eye', I was trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with it. If she really was inspiring mothers, as she claimed, then people shouldn't have been offended. I enjoy being inspired. I follow many blogs and many people on twitter as well as facebook, because, what they have to say is inspiring and uplifting. Such people have actually motivated me to change myself in more ways than one.

Then, it hit me. It was the caption. 'What's your excuse?'

Nobody likes to be put down or spoken to, in a condescending manner. We don't like to be made to feel inferior or worthless. I like the way one person had put it, on a parenting forum. In a nutshell, what she said was, ' Had this fitness expert used a statement like, "If I can do it, so can you", then the situation would have been a whole new ballgame.'

What a wonderful statement! It's all about perspective.

If you want people to be inspired, then INSPIRE them, don't talk down to them.

 Empathise with them, don't stand above them on a pedestal.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are willing to do to be a part of someone's life. Parenting is the same thing. If you want your child to respect you, respect them. Show them that the relationship is a two-way street, where you are willing to go more than just half the distance.

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