Mostly, we tend to simplify everything and quickly match a gesture to a customary meaning. For instance, just because a guy always avoids looking at you, he’s a snob. Or, because someone looks at you and grins, he’s making fun of you.
Sometimes, some people are and some people do. But at other times, some folks don’t and some folks aren’t.
It’s something like what most people think of actors who get roles as villains in movies. They think they’re like that in real life. But when they meet them personally, they often say, “He’s not bad after all. He’s actually nice!”
It’s probably social norm or culture that provided (or forced on) us a ready formula for people’s reactions. If they laugh they’re happy. If they’re crying they’re sad. If they avoid your stare they’re guilty. If you don’t answer them in an argument, they think you’d conceded defeat or have admitted your wrong.
Or, they have ready meanings for people’s actions: If people go to church buildings on Sundays they’re spiritual and in favor with God. If they don’t, they’re sinners. If they are titled or degreed, they’re decent. If not they’re savages. If they are moneyed, they work hard or are smart. If not, they’re lazy or stupid.
Or, in worse cases, about how people look. If they’re ugly they’re bad. If good-looking, they’re good people. If they talk politely they can be trusted. If they talk like thugs do—well, they are thugs.
Very few people stop to re-think about these ready formulas or meanings and begin to wonder if they’re accurate—and who on earth invented them and why. And then they start considering people’s gestures more carefully and weigh things with a broader perspective.
Most folks aren’t what they seem to be. So you always have to give them the benefit of a doubt.
There was this guy who was known among his circle of friends at the production department to be outgoing and funny. But each time we talked, he often kept mum and just smiled a bit when I tried telling him something funny. To most people, he’d easily be labeled “arrogant”or someone choosy about friends and derided those he didn’t like. And I started having that impression of him. I could even think that he hated or distrusted me.
What did I do wrong?
But one time I leveled with him. “Don’t think of me as your superior,” I told him. “I’m here as an ordinary guy, not a manager of the company. Okay?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Okay,” he said.
Then I started. “I’m wondering, why do you act indifferent when talking with me?”
He hesitated for a while and then said, “Off the record?”
I nodded. “No one would know about it.”
“Because most of your friends from management treat us guys from production like garbage. So I figure, you’re one of them. I’m just nobody to you,” he revealed. “So why should I say anything? Nobodies don’t have any right to express themselves. They’re not important. They’re not wanted.”
So, I learned that he saw me as “arrogant” all the while that I also saw him as “arrogant.” We both used the formulas societal norm had imposed on us. After that talk, we became friends and he started opening up to me. I saw him as a funny, nice guy who always had a joke or two to share. And he found me (according to him) “not that arrogant, after all.” 😀