“Don’t judge a book by its cover”. A classic saying that has been heard for generations and a phrase we have all heard time and time again. While the term and become rather cliched and has had its meaning somewhat diminished, the idea is still common and relevant to many situations in each of our daily lives. For those unfamiliar, the fundamental thought of the phrase is based off the idea that one should never use their first impression of another individual as a definition or ever hold that judgement against them. Instead we should withhold any form of judgement until we get to know the person better. In another sense, it tells us to disregard any outward appearances or actions and focus more on what kind of personality or thoughts they have, believing that our our identity is not based of anything physical but our values and beliefs.
Sergeant Nibley, as he wrote in the epilogue of his Ph. D book, questions, “Is it possible for a soldier to renounce war, even as he obeys his officers and shoots at the enemy?”. Upon reading this quote, I struggled to come up with a answer.
I first explored some thoughts that could provide evidence for yes as an answer.
My initial train of thought took me to the conclusion that we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover” and I looked further into the idea to find my answer. While a soldier’s actions may not
display his thoughts and instead actually promotes further conflict and war, it is entirely possible that he is not acting out of his own free will. Perhaps there exists and underlying reason that we are unaware about for his actions. Without proper understanding of the soldier’s purpose, where do we stand to judge him? After all, it is entirely possible for people to act against their values
and beliefs in times of need. Throughout time, there have been countless examples of individuals temporarily deviating from their original identity in order to overcome adversity. We should not be denying this soldier’s right of thought, and we cannot blame the soldier for doing what he needs to do as we cannot truly see his perspective. In order to compel an individual to willingly commit acts of hypocrisy, their circumstance must be so extremely dire that they are forced to betray their own values and beliefs and their own identity. How can anyone possibly criticize any individual for prioritizing their own self being in these circumstances? If anyone is to blame, perhaps the blame lies with us for being so ignorant towards his understanding.
However, as expected of a rhetorical question, the answer is not as simple as a yes.
I then explored some thoughts that could provide evidence for no as an answer.
The saying “actions speak louder that words” soon came to mind. While the soldier’s actions may not represent his true motives and beliefs, it shouldn’t be our responsibility to see past his actions and judge his true character. There is a very clear line between self perception and perception from others. While the soldier is able to perceive his own actions and support them with his own reasons and values, other are unable to do so. That being the case, it ultimately falls on the soldier to demonstrate to others his values and beliefs. It should be expected for an individual to be judged based on their actions and not just what they may say. A society where this principle does not apply is a society that has developed into unsustainable culture ripe for ideas of hypocrisy to flourish. In such a world, honesty and other virtues of character can no longer be expected. At the end of the day, the soldier’s actions have served nothing to demonstrate his beliefs, but rather only to perpetuate the conflict. For an individual to act so self-servingly and to only justify one’s actions to oneself but engage in a society at the same time, their actions demonstrate not only impudence but also a disregard for the judgement and value of others. The soldier must be held accountable to their actions and judged accordingly. We cannot not judge an individual based on actions and overlook their words.
However, the answer once again is not as simple as a no.
Ultimately I arrived to conclude that rather than simply judging an individual’s words or actions, we look at neither specifically. Rather than looking at two aspects of an individual to judge them, I believe we should develop our understanding of the person. This is to say, it is completely fine to judge a book by it cover, to look at person and define them by your first impression of them. If a thought simply remains a thought, it holds no significance. If ideas are not put into action, they will be disregarded. Similarly, thoughts cannot harm an others if they are kept to themselves. At the same time, this first impression, while can represent one’s initial thought of an individual, should not be a permanent definition of them. Rather, one’s perception of another individual should be adaptable and evolve with better understanding.
Likewise, fear is a common first impression one may have of another individual. Some may view this fear against another individual or group of people as racist and unjustifiable but I believe fear as a natural instinct and response can be justified. As long such fear is not acted upon, fear makes perfect sense. After all, who doesn’t fear the unknown. As long as fear does not influence one’s actions and one seeks better understanding in order to eliminate any fear, there is no need for fear to be accompanied with an excuse.