False First Impressions — or Why You Shouldn’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Recently I did a show for a preschool-aged crowd. Before the show began, the children were playing with some large foam blocks. A little girl was stacking her blocks contentedly when out of nowhere a little boy came running up, shouting, “Knock it down!” And of course, he proceeded to do just that.

A few moments later, the boy’s younger sister was sitting on another block, pretending it was a horse. Her brother stood behind her, kneeing her in the back. As I watched the wild way in which he tore around the room, wreaking havoc and disturbing the other children, my radar went off. I remember thinking, “This child is a real handful. I’ll be lucky if he can behave himself for five seconds, let alone the duration of my performance. And if he takes on a role in the story, things could get very interesting!”

But to my surprise, when the story began, the boy sat there completely still, completely attentive. He was soaking in every word. When I asked for volunteers amongst the very reluctant crowd, he agreed to come up, but he wasn’t a handful at all. In fact, he appeared rather shy as he put on the costume hat and took on the role of the chicken (and later that of the cow!) in the story. My fears that he would be running all over the place mid-story, disrupting others or not able to follow instructions, were completely unfounded. He behaved like an angel.

They always say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and that saying can (and should!) be applied to people, especially children, as well. I’ll never forget my college acting teacher saying that we as humans cannot help but judge people. It’s part of our nature. The danger is when we become so locked into our judgments that we do not remain open to new information and cannot see when we’re wrong.

I do know that I had pre-judged this child. I’d looked at a tiny slice of his behavior and allowed that to color what I thought of him as a whole – or at least how I thought he would behave in that particular moment in time. I’m happy to say, I was wrong.

When the program was over, I found myself pondering what had prompted the change in his behavior during the performance. I’m sure a number of factors could have accounted for it, but part of me wondered if maybe he truly relished the opportunity to listen, to be talked to, to have someone share something of value with him. Perhaps this is something he doesn’t get a lot of in his daily life. Or perhaps his otherwise active demeanor makes others think it’s not something he would appreciate.

Now I have no idea what this boy’s home life is like, so that’s just my own random attempt at understanding. But I do know that as Lewis Carroll once said: “Stories are love gifts.” And maybe there is no substitute for the sense of value a child receives when he or she is listening to a story.

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