Why Judge a Book by Its Cover but Not a Person by Appearance

The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” is usually used to explain why we shouldn’t judge people by the way they look or dress. While it makes for a nice metaphor, it is literally wrong, and it highlights one of the basic ways that people see the world.

Literally Wrong

A good book cover is created to entice people, who will enjoy the book, to read it. It doesn’t make sense for the cover to mislead readers because the book will get bad reviews and the author will lose credibility. Romance books use romance covers, so romance readers know what they are getting and those that dislike romance stay away – the same is true of every other book out there. It’s okay to judge a book by its cover because the cover should lead you to an expectation of what you’re going to read. Fulfilling that expectation will lead to a better reading experience and cause you t gravitate to the author’s other works. If you couldn’t judge a book by its cover, which includes the summary on the back, you probably wouldn’t bother spending the $8 to $30 on a copy only to find out three pages in that the book isn’t what you expected or wanted.

How People Judge

Human beings judge everything by the way it looks. Fruits are grown and bred for their appearance rather than their taste. Cars are purchased based on how they look, and how those looks will affect the perception of the driver, rather than how they perform or how practical they are. People spend billions of dollars every year on make-up, plastic surgery, hair dye, and body modifications, and they are judged by others based on how they look.

It’s a basic tenet of human nature that we judge those who look like us as better than those who look differently. This basic tendency is why there’s institutional racism and sexism. The people who do the interviewing are more comfortable with hiring someone who looks like him or her, and they will base their decision on their gut instinct without examining why the instinct is there or what it’s really telling them.

While it is perfectly fine to judge a book by its cover, people aren’t books and should not be judged by how they look. We’re all still going to do it because it’s a built-in survival mechanism. When something confirms our biases, we’re going to place more emphasis on those incidents than on the events that contradict what we believe internally. Even with clear and rational observation and logic, we’re still going to tend to fall back into our old habits and instincts that don’t serve us anymore. We need to be vigilant and courageous to stand up to our own prejudices against those who are different from us. Until we can face our own shortcomings and know our own beliefs, we will continue to fall into the trap of judging people by how they look instead of by what they do.

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