The Foolishness of Prejudging – Thoughts about Doug Glanville and his Snow-Covered Driveway (with a Reminder from Gladwell’s Blink)

We make snap judgments. Sometimes, they are good snap judgments. Sometimes, not so good…

Doug Glanville from his playing days
Doug Glanville from his playing days

Doug Glanville is a retired Major League Ballplayer, now works for ESPN, and a homeowner. And, he is African American.

He was shoveling snow off his driveway when a police officer walked up. It is important to note that other folks were also shoveling their driveways. But the police officer walked up only to him, and basically challenged him for “shoveling while black.” Mr. Glanville kept his cool, but wrote quite an article about the incident on The Atlantic: I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway. Really, do yourself a favor, and read it (click here). It might help you understand why Black Americans feel like racism is still a thing…

It reminded me of a passage in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. He calls these snap judgments “blink” thin-slicing judgments. In the book, he tells about this remarkable car salesman, Bob Golomb from New Jersey. What made him so much better than others? His ability to never “disqualify” a customer by “judging” them because of the way they looked. From the book:Blink

He follows a very simple rule. He may make a million snap judgments about a customer’s needs and state of mind, but he tries never to judge anyone on the basis of his or her appearance. He assumes that everyone who walks in the door has the exact same chance of buying a car. “You cannot prejudge people in this business. Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot. A green salesperson looks at a customer and says, ‘This person looks like he can’t afford a car,’ which is the worst thing you can do, because sometimes the most unlikely person is flush.”

And then Gladwell makes this observation:

Most salespeople are prone to a classic Warren Harding error. They see someone, and somehow they let the first impression they have about that person’s appearance drown out every other piece of information they manage to gather in that first instant.

It was foolish of that police officer to “prejudge” Mr. Glanville. His actions must have followed from a thought process that went like this: “No way that man should be in front of that house shoveling snow. He’ s bound to be up to no good.” (Again, read Mr. Glanville’s account. It is remarkable!).

And, it is foolish to disqualify a person so quickly; from a sale, from a job, from any circle of involvement – from a neighborhood.

If we believe that everyone has an equal chance to prove his or her worth based on skills and capabilities and merit, then it is time to develop a much better ability to stop all our prejudging. We are probably all guilty of it to some extent. And, such prejudging narrows our possibilities, and ends up hurting real people.

It’s time to overcome this tendency. It’s time to learn not to practice such prejudging.


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