3 Interesting Ways To Size Someone Up

If you ever join my family on a weekend outing to the mall, or end up next to us in line at an amusement park, you might be surprised to hear how vigorously we judge the people around us.  It’s true that hairstyles and fashion choices often attract our attention (we are human, after all), but if you listen closely you’ll notice that what we are actually paying attention to and discussing are people’s eyes, the expressions on their faces, and who they are with.  In short, we are discussing how “safe” they are.

Ever since my boys were old enough to walk, we’ve been talking to them about the idea of safe strangers — people they could ask for help if they got lost.  Women, and especially women with children, usually top the list of “most likely to be helpful” candidates. Fortunately, we’ve never had to put their skills to the test.

In spite of our culture’s negative views about judging people, it’s actually a useful and rather important skill for adults and children alike.  Let’s be honest — it’s something we all do anyway, and the ability to size someone up helps us determine not just who we can trust, but who we might want to spend time with or work with.

Maya Angelou, one of the great people observers of our time, famously said “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”  I couldn’t agree with her more, especially about the tangled tree lights.  I was thinking about this quote the other day as I stood in line at the store, watching a mother with a cranky toddler, and was inspired to add three additional ways to size someone up: 

  1. How they manage a child throwing a temper tantrum
  2. How they respond to receiving the wrong meal at a restaurant.
  3. How they react to finding a spider (or any other large bug) in the sink. 

Show me how someone handles a situation where they have little control, an experience that does not meet their expectations, and an unexpected event tinged with fear, and I can tell you a lot about that person. Also, I’ve found that when these things happen in public, they provide great opportunities to talk to your kids (once you’re back in the car, of course) about how well or badly someone managed a situation, and how they themselves would want to respond if they are ever in that same situation.

How about you?  What situations would you add to the list?  Do you ever talk to your kids about them?

About Lori Dunlap

Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director and adjunct faculty member. In addition to homeschooling her two sons, she writes regularly about education and parenting issues. You can read her blog at www.teachyourown.org, or connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeachYourOwn

Posted on April 10, 2013, in Education, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting read.
    One situation that I would add is the way people react to situations that are beyond their control.
    For example – The way people behave when they are told a flight cannot take off because of bad weather conditions and safety reasons.
    My daughter is just sixteen months old at the moment, but I do imagine that I would talk to her about this when she grows up.
    Thank you for this great post and hope to read more from you.


  2. @Shweta: That's a good one! Adding it to my list…


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