You can’t judge a book by its cover

You can’t judge a book by its cover

In this article I am going to examine the proverb: “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. I will make an effort to examine how apt it is while trying to make decisions in everyday life. On the face of it the profound truth behind the proverb is self evident. If correct decisions can be made on the basis of appearances alone, then our decisions would be correct most of the time. But obviously this does not happen in real life. Just reflect on how often we regret decisions made on the basis of appearances. Right down from mundane things like watching a movie based on a trailer to the choice of a career, judgments based on appearances often turn out to be wrong.

Let us now consider everyday life and then I will move on to more important long term decisions. Let us consider some simple everyday activities. Say, the choice of a resort to stay at on a holiday. In this case we have to base our choice on hearsay and reputation alone even though it may turn out a very bad choice. I found this out to my chagrin a few years ago when I went on a holiday. I remember visiting Mamallapuram, a south Indian sea side attraction and we decided to stay in a reputed resort. 

As soon as we arrived the management informed us that we have to wait for an hour to occupy our rooms as the previous occupants had extended their stay. After this, one of the rooms we were allotted had a coconut tree adjacent to the balcony and we could not spend a minute sitting there comfortably because the crows were a constant nuisance. And then there was something wrong with the air-conditioner and we had to repeatedly summon the management to get it repaired. It spoiled our holiday completely. But is there any other way to decide on a place to stay at on a holiday other than going by the reputation and what we hear from people and the reviews we read? None whatsoever. There is nothing we can do but to go by what we hear.

Now let us take another example. Say, you want to buy some groceries. If we are interested in quality, we have to trust the reputation of the brand. There is simply no other choice. Sometimes reputed brands may not suit our health needs. But there is no option but to trust what we hear and what is advertised. After our first choice is made and it does not suit our digestive systems; we have to try and find something that suits us by trial and error. Another example is the choice of a movie to watch with your family on a Saturday evening. Here again we have to depend on a trailer or a review written by someone well known or sometimes word of mouth. There is no other way.

Recently I had a bitter experience with a movie I watched with my family. The movie was a super-hit in the box office and there were several rave reviews written about it. And it had a very promising cast of actors. We went to the theater with great expectations. Needless to say, we spent two and a half hours in the theater and we came back feeling very let down and I ended up with a headache. Similarly consider buying a television set or a car. Of course, here our budget also places a constraint on us. If we go to the show rooms we are immediately faced with a barrage of sales talk by the eager salesmen with their practiced pitch.

How do we make a choice? In this case the best thing one can do is to base our selection of on the reputation and the experience one’s friends and family have had with the various brands. Most often when we make a choice based on reputation and what people say, it works in everyday life. But it does not work all the time. Sometimes the best choices go awry. But there is nothing we can do other than trust what we hear and then go by our gut instinct. 

Similarly consider the choice of books to read. Most people go by the reputation of the author and word of mouth – be it educational books for schools and colleges or books we read for entertainment. For choice of educational books most often it pays to go by the reputation of the author. But in the case of books we read for entertainment (fiction and non-fiction) we may be pleasantly surprised by a nondescript, little known author who suits our particular taste. Sometimes it so happens that we are hugely disappointed by a reputed author simply because we do not like his style of writig. But how else do we choose what we read except by reading reviews and basing it on what we hear from our friends and family? 

In everyday life we have to depend largely on what we hear and what we read about things, even though there is always a chance of going wrong in our choices. But the situation reverses when it comes to important and major decisions like a career path or the choice of a life partner. At least in India there is a craze among parents to see their children become doctors or engineers. Most parents force their children to take up the science stream even though the child is eminently unsuitable for it and does not have a scientific bent of mind. Here the parents had better remember the proverb “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. 

Yes, being a doctor or an engineer is paying and is a very good career choice. But it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The question of suitability plays a very important role. A career in engineering or medicine is extremely lucrative and rewarding for the right person but it can be a very unsuitable choice for someone without the aptitude. So at least in the selection of a career we have to consider individual skill, ability and aptitude. Not only in the choice of a career, but in all major decisions that shape one’s life one has to remember the proverb “One cannot judge a book by its cover”. 

Take marriage for instance. We hear of the mounting divorce rates in developed and developing countries. Healthy family is a grass-root necessity for a healthy society. It is a barometer of the well-being of a society. So one has to exercise caution in the selection of a life partner. Most often a glamorous and superficial attraction shapes the choice of a life partner. It is the heart that speaks instead of the head. It is very important to remember that a person to whom we are immediately attracted may not be suitable to our temperament and may not be the correct choice to be a partner for life. 

In this situation the judgement should be based on what our mind tells us. So I conclude by saying that in everyday life, while making choices, we have to go by reputation and what we hear and what most people around us tell ys. But when it comes to major decisions that are going to shape our lives, we need to exercise caution and sound judgement and use our heads to make the right choices.

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