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Appearances may be deceptive

Huzaima Bukhari

“No mirror can reflect a picture of a human as best as his/her attitude and way of speaking do”— Hazrat Ali (AS)

Meeting strangers is quite exciting but the only cause for concern is their real nature and character which is difficult to discern at first sight. Human beings are adorned with a variety of attributes, both negative and positive, that are definitely not all visible. These are revealed gradually as people grow more intimate with the passage of time. Truth about their actual temperament may or may not be disappointing or pleasing depending upon one’s own experience. However, one thing is certain. We do not like to cast a poor impression about ourselves upon others. We want to be recognised as beautiful, cultured, well-meaning and good human beings for which we are even either willing to conceal the undesirable aspects of our personality or put on a false garb in order to appear charming. Consequently, character evaluation in the first instance (and sometimes years) can become a tricky business and that is why, for example love marriages sometimes fail.

Many people get swindled by persons whom they trust and many others lose friends for want of trust. The air of confusion surmounts the thinking process preventing a person from making the right decision. Amid this turmoil how is it possible then to make a sound character judgement? This is undoubtedly a question that does not have a simple solution or a straightforward answer. Even experience seems helpless in the face of some characters. There are people who claim to be able to distinguish between good and bad types through instinctive feelings but they are rare.

Great thinkers and sages have provided some guidelines to help humankind tackle this difficult situation with which, more or less all have to deal with in their lives. One of the famous sayings is that never judge a book by its cover. We tend to get enraptured by a person’s expensive robes, accessories and vehicles but here is where caution is necessary. Before forming an opinion, one must wait for this gentleman or gentlewoman to say something in order to get fully exposed. The choice of words, topic of conversation, style and attitude determine the real character hidden behind all the glamour. One of our well-known Pakistani actresses, although impeccably dressed, has become a laughing stock with her absurd way of talking and expressing her views, proving that intellect is not dependent on one’s exterior or celebrity status.

Occasionally, sweet talk can be laced with poison and harsh words could have sincere intentions therefore one must neither be beguiled by someone’s glib tongue nor be put off by another’s candid opinion. This fallacy has specifically been noted in the corridors of power where flattery thrives and forthrightness is punished. Resultantly, many thrones have been toppled and coups taken place just because the charlatans managed to surround the principal authority with their sycophancy.

Another advice relates to observing the attitude of people with those, other than oneself. The good natured, kind-hearted and sophisticated will usually behave well with everyone, no matter from which stratum of society and including animals and vegetation too. Some time back, a stray dog got caught under a moving jeep with four men who, finding the ordeal of the poor moaning animal extremely entertaining, jeered in a most detestable manner. Display of this type of pervert conduct shows the uncouth and apathetic temperament of these men. Similarly, the attitude towards those who are lower in position matters a lot. Talking nicely to one’s peers comes easily but maintaining the same tone with those whom we consider inferior (for whatever reasons) reveals the standard of one’s upbringing, mental level, humanity and family background. Cutting short, a lot can be said about others’ disposition, at least by mindful attention to the way they treat different living beings.

Browsing through various advisory notes about how to judge personalities, there are a few points worth considering. These envisage paying attention to the amount of talking, whether showing domineering or submissive tendency; who or what is the centre point of discussion—is a person prone to gossip because if that is the trend then rest assured when you are not around then you could also become a subject one day; the type of energy level around the person when entering a room—the vibes that emanate determine whether the person is cheerful or forlorn, makes others comfortable or uneasy, adds to or absorbs the existing energy; displays a sense of superiority by looking down upon others or shows humility in meeting and greeting; is considerate and well-mannered or is susceptible to exhibiting intolerant reaction to difference of opinion.   

In addition to these indications, there are ‘word clues’ as coined by Jack Schafer, behavior analyst for the FBI, that help to provide some insight into a person’s mind. “If the eyes are the window to the soul, then words are the gateway to the mind.” According to him, while thinking, a human is usually making use of nouns and verbs but when translating thoughts into conversation, adverbs and adjectives are brought in to highlight the vibrancy of sentences. For example a thought “I won” when converted into spoken language may be: “I won another award.” With these words, Schafer makes an interesting analysis of the speaker; “This person wanted to ensure that other people know that he or she won at least one other award, thus bolstering his or her self-image. This person may need the adulation of others to reinforce his or her self-esteem. Observers could exploit this vulnerability by using flattery and other ego-enhancing comments.”

If these pointers were aptly used to scrutinize the written and mostly spoken words of our elected public office holders, Pakistan’s political atmosphere would be a lot different from what it is now. We would have been able to figure out the true nature of our politicians who consistently expose themselves with their words yet we have remained blind in our choices. The recent past has witnessed leaders who were daggers drawn and who foul-mouthed their opponents with the use of highly objectionable language, not only huddled together in a conciliatory mood but also using obsequious words to address each other as if no astringency ever transpired between them. When reminded, they claim that in politics such expediency is warranted/justifiable.

Perhaps, politics is a game of hypocrisy led by hypocrites but the fact is that in order to emerge as a nation with a strong character, to become an economically prosperous country and to gain a distinctive position in the world, our elected representatives should also be blessed with the same attributes. There should not be any room for turncoats, egocentrics, narcissistic, arrogant, spiteful, apathetic, selfish and above all, corrupt-to-the-core and dishonest people. If we learn to read human beings for who they actually are, we would be able to make better educated decisions when voting them in power and handing over to them the reins of our destiny.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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