Shrek is a computer-animated fantasy comedy film released in 2001, starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow. In the movie, a resentful ogre named Shrek (Myers) discovers his home in the swamp invaded by mythical animals exiled by the obsessive monarch Lord Farquaad (Lithgow). Shrek, with the aid of Donkey (Murphy), strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona (Diaz) in exchange for taking back control of his swamp.
Take a look at this scene (courtesy of Wingclips.com) revolving around a conversation between Shrek and Donkey.
Shrek’s lament in this scene is certainly one that I can identify with, both from the perspective of a victim as well as a perpetrator. We’ve all heard the cliches and have probably used some of them a few times. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “Looks are deceiving,” “Beauty is only skin deep,” “All that glitters is not gold.” People frequently claim that they would never judge someone based solely on how they look. Yeah, right! The truth is that our perceptions of people are greatly influenced by their physical appearance, and initial impressions are frequently formed based on the physical.
According to studies, we create an opinion about someone based on their appearance in a matter of seconds because our brains are designed to make fast decisions as a means of survival. Our thoughts are constantly monitoring our surroundings, attempting to determine whether a person is a threat based on their looks. To take it a step further, we all have our own particular “measuring tape” that we use to evaluate people. Whether it’s by their appearance, their past (particularly if it is terrible), their political views, their acquaintances, their education (or the lack thereof) or their career, we all judge people through the prism of our own past, customs, beliefs or emotion at the time. Raise your hand if you have ever felt uncomfortable around someone or a group of people merely because he/she/they look different than you do. I have both hands up.
But why is that? Perhaps this quote offers an explanation:
Our unconscious mind starts from whatever objective data is available
to us, usually spotty,
and helps to shape and construct the more complete
picture we consciously perceive
LEONARD MLODINOW, PHYSICIST
That quote seems reasonable I suppose, but here’s the thing…we stink at it! I’m talking like cesspool level stench! It is not only unfair to judge someone solely on their appearance, but it may also be harmful. We run the danger of reinforcing negative stereotypes and prejudices when we make conclusions about someone based on their physical appearance. This may culminate in discrimination and prejudice, which can be damaging to both people and society.
Our inclination to judge based on appearance is not only manifested in a cautionary sense, but in today’s culture where emphasis is placed heavily on the ideal of beauty, there is a tendency to hold people in high regard solely based on what they present on the outside. I have made the mistake several times of equating being well-dressed and well-groomed to success and competency. Our current society has an obsessive fixation with physical attractiveness and a lack of attention to inner beauty. It’s precisely why Jesus frequently taught that we should not judge other people superficially.
In fact, consider this pre-Jesus story in the book of 1 Samuel Chapter 16, where the prophet Samuel was tasked by God to find and anoint a replacement for the then reigning king Saul. As instructed by God, Samuel goes to the house of a man named Jesse and sees Jesse’s oldest son Eliab. Eliab must have appeared magnificent, well-built, powerful, and tall; he must have had a somewhat regal appearance, because upon their meeting, Samuel thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord…” And what was God’s poignant reply?
Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart - 1 Samuel 16:7
Bam! There it is! This happened six more times. Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and to all seven God in essence said, “Nope, keep it moving.” So, Samuel then asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep,” to which Samuel replied, “send for him.” The youngest son was David, who is described in 1 Samuel as having handsome features. But he was just a boy, likely could not even fathom what it must be like to rule a nation and probably came in smelling like the sheep he was tending. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
1 Samuel 16:7 demonstrates God’s priority and viewpoint. Samuel learned that day what we ought to learn now. God’s attention is focused inwardly rather than the outward. The most important thing is character, not appearance. Being black or white, short or tall, fat or thin, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, coke or pepsi, is irrelevant from God’s perspective. God doesn’t care about what you’ve done in the past or how qualified you are. It makes no difference how well-known you are or what positions you have had. God is concerned with what is inside, and He can see everything.
You may be saying that you cannot discern the content of someone’s heart as God does. That’s true. Only the faith, fear, and love that are ingrained in the heart are valued by the Lord, beyond human discernment. But what we can do and what Jesus encourages is to examine what’s beneath the surface. Don’t assume that what’s on the surface tells you everything there is to know about someone.
People are like icebergs – most of who we are lies beneath the surface