Impressions can be deceiving

Ryan Houk

Last week, Shelley Blundell wrote a column here in the Stater urging readers to believe when others show who they are. It was sound advice with the potential to help many people in their travels. There are, however, problems with blindly accepting Oprah Winfrey’s golden rule.

First, consider the source. Oprah might be the most powerful woman on the planet, but she is also under scrutiny for allegedly following her maxim too vigilantly – especially when it comes to hip-hop stars and their oversize music personas. I’ll bet Ludacris doesn’t think Oprah is a good judge of character. I’ll bet Ice Cube agrees with him.

To “believe what others show you about themselves,” you must first make sure you know what you’re seeing. I’ll admit there were times when I didn’t see what I should have for whatever reason. Humans have a habit of overlooking potential warning signs in favor of what they want to see or believe. Abusive boyfriends don’t usually introduce themselves with, “Hi, I’m your future abusive boyfriend.”

People are liars. I know because I’m a person, and I lie all the time. I lie about stuff there’s no reason to lie about. And I’m nothing special. Clinton lied about the blow job. Bush lied about Iraq. Your stock broker lied when he said Enron was good, and he didn’t even know he was lying.

Only if you’re face-to-face with someone, and you’re certain that person isn’t lying, and you can trust your intuition, can you maybe believe what you see. Use caution though, because these days you can’t even be sure who you’re talking to.

Take my mom. She e-mailed me last week to ask my opinion on a situation she encountered on MySpace. Some guy – claiming to be a country music semi-superstar – addressed her as “pretty lady” and offered her $5,000 to be in his music video. All she had to do was send him an audition tape proving she smoked and to “be sure to inhale at least three times.” I was skeptical.

First of all, the “pretty lady” comment is smarmy. No professional begins a business relationship with flirtatious conversation. If anyone ever does approach you in this fashion – even if he is professional – it’s in your best interest to walk the other way.

Second, not to discourage amateur line dancers everywhere, but you’re never going to get paid $5,000 to appear in a music video. Take it from a former actor: Producers are far too stingy for that. You might get 50 bucks a day. You’ll probably get free food.

Finally, why all the emphasis on smoking? It didn’t make sense. I wouldn’t even consider this possibility if my girlfriend wasn’t a fetish model, but I’m betting the correspondence was the result of some “cowboy” looking for “mature” Internet pin-ups who smoke. If my mom actually does contact the guy, I’ll let you know what happens.

My point is this: I am not trying to refute Shelley or Oprah. Their advice does make sense; I’m just saying there are variables. There are always variables. Does that mean we should all live in caves and avoid any contact with others? No. But it does mean we should not be so quick to judge what or who we think we see.

Ryan Houk is a junior English major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].