We judge people constantly: as managers, as colleagues, as clients, as suppliers, as friends. But it’s always sat uneasily with me that we judge them based on imperfect knowledge.
That’s because we never know people as deeply as we could, of course. But there’s a more insidious dynamic at play too. We ourselves change how people behave – more so if we’re in positions of power and authority, or if we’re particularly forceful people – and so we see a distorted view of them. It’s like we carry around our own personal distortion fields with us, warping how we see the people we meet.
What’s to be done about it? That’s the subject of this week’s article.
We think we know what people are good at and what they’re like. But how can we be sure, when we ourselves distort the way they behave? For some people, the power of this distortion is so great that they’re almost incapable of making accurate judgements about people.
Jonathan Nunn, publisher of Vittles and perhaps the country’s best food writer at the moment, writes brilliantly on the cynical classism of food in Britain, particularly among the right-wing commentariat:
“You can understand the policing of food boundaries in a few non-food-related ways – the more charitable one is that for a certain type of political commentator, it is extremely convenient to portray the working class as a homogeneous, socially conservative and incurious bloc, whose vision of food corresponds to a kind of political nativism. It’s a bizarrely infantilising view, one that assumes that an interest in better or different foodstuffs is class treason and that puts people in clearly defined boxes, just as much as the identity politics that these commentators supposedly rail against.
“A less kind analysis, but perhaps a more accurate one, is that assigning middle-classness to cheap staples from other cuisines – hummus, soy sauce, cumin, for instance – usefully disguises the reality that the working class is far more diverse than these commentators understand. The fact is that if a similar inventory of ‘working class’ foods were to be undertaken across contemporary Britain, it would be less ‘gammon, pie and mash and ale’, and more ‘ackee, pierogi and shatkora’.”
An interesting look at the psychologist Steven Taylor, who presciently published a book on the psychology of pandemics immediately before the best test-case in human history:
“[Taylor] wrote a remarkable little book back in 2019 called ‘The Psychology of Pandemics.’ Its premise is that pandemics are ‘not simply events in which some harmful microbe “goes viral”’, but rather are mass psychological phenomena about the behaviours, attitudes and emotions of people.
“The book came out pre-COVID and yet predicts every trend and trope we’ve been living for 19 months now: the hoarding of supplies like toilet paper at the start; the rapid spread of ‘unfounded rumours and fake news’; the backlash against masks and vaccines; the rise and acceptance of conspiracy theories; and the division of society into people who ‘dutifully conform to the advice of health authorities’ – sometimes compulsively so – and those who ‘engage in seemingly self-defeating behaviours such as refusing to get vaccinated.’”
It’s not that Taylor had a crystal ball, but rather that the coronavirus pandemic has followed many of the same dynamics of pandemics throughout history, because humans are fundamentally human. As Taylor says:
“Pandemics bring out all these extremes in behaviour. Anxiety, fear, denial, racism, conspiracy theories, the popularity of quack cures, the ‘you’re not the boss of me’ backlash to health directives – these things have all been seen dating back to the medieval plagues.”
Interesting video documenting a grassroots effort to hold back desertification in northern Africa by planting spiral gardens. #