A writing exercise: write about a random page from a book
Writing about page 149 of The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin
Sooooooooooooooooo… in the interest of mixing things up a bit, I’m doing something different in this newsletter. I have randomly selected page 149 of Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (2014), a book that I picked from a bookshelf at random. I have no idea what’s on this page as I start writing this post - it’s been years since I’ve read the book. I’m going to read what’s on the page and then write about that.1
Here’s a passage from page 149:
On the Edge of Your Social World
Another cognitive illusion that concerns social judgements is that we tend to have a very difficult time ignoring information that has proven to be false. Suppose you’re trying to decide between job A and job B; you’ve been offered positions in both companies at the same rate of pay. You start making inquiries, and a friend tells you that the people at company A are very difficult to get along with and that, moreover, there have been a number of sexual harassment suits filed against the company’s management. It’s very natural to start reviewing in your mind all the people that you met at company A, trying to imagine who is difficult and who might have been implicated in the harassment claims. A few days later, you and your friend are talking, and your friend apologizes, saying that she confused company A with a different company with a similar name - the evidence on which your first conclusion was made has been summarily removed. Dozens of experiments have shown that the original knowledge - now known to be false - exerts a lingering influence on your judgments; it is impossible to hit the reset button. Lawyers know this well, and often plant the seeds of a false idea in the minds of jurors and judges. After opposing counsel objects, the judge’s admonition, “The jury will disregard that last exchange,” comes too late to affect impression format and judgment.
First impressions often rule, don’t they? (also, this passage doesn’t do much to bolster the reputation of the legal profession, alas)
In new and unfamiliar territory, if it’s the first day at school, a new job or a new neighborhood, the human mind has to take in a lot of information and our brains are probably still wired to make quick judgments about our surroundings in order to have the best chance of staying alive; hence the power of first impressions. Unscrupulous people take advantage of this cognitive bias to influence other people, regardless of whether or not the information they use is accurate.
(I’m sure we all have plenty of examples of people doing this to establish their dominance in their group.)
Other times we simply make bad judgments all on our own based on what we see in our initial impressions, without taking the time to question our thinking. I know I’ve misjudged colleagues and acquaintances by seeing them in the worst possible way at the wrong time, then I’m surprised later to determine that they are actually pretty decent people. As the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover (although we often do).
I often judge other people: I’m not proud of it but it’s an urge that I can’t resist. The way I compensate for this, though, is another reaction that I’ve worked on developing over the years: I second guess myself. I question my original reaction. I try to find any evidence to support or refute my knee-jerk reaction.
(It’s almost impossible for me to overcome my automatic reaction to egotists and blowhards, though. And bigots.)
So yeah, this passage rings true for me. Good one, Mr. Levitin.
Over to you: any good stories about first impressions or people attempting to manipulate you by strategic planting of ideas? Why not share your thoughts in the comments?
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This is an example of a Hail Cinderella play because all of my other newsletter ideas for this week have turned back into pumpkins and mice.