Oprah’s Experience and the Danger of Judging People at First Glance

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah, one of the richest women in the world, walked into a posh store in Switzerland and was refused service because the shop attendant took one look at her and in that split second made a decision that there was no way she could afford the bag.  The shop attendant later claims it is due to a misunderstanding.

How many ways are there to understand “I want to see that bag” with matching hand gestures. You’re working in a store.  People are there to shop.  If someone points to an item it’s obvious that the purpose is to look at the item because they are interested in it.  There are even less ways to understand “No, it’s too expensive.”  She was really saying: “Don’t waste my time, you can’t possibly afford this.”  What else could it mean?  (See full article here.)

The store attendant obviously took one look at Oprah.  Thought she was just a “black” woman who is way over her head and decided she wasn’t worth taking the time to show an expensive bag to.  HUGE mistake… wouldn’t you say?

I, myself, have experienced instances where I was obviously seen, judged unworthy of attention and summarily dismissed by some people (luckily it doesn’t happen often as most people are usually more subtle in their judgments).  When it does happen, it pisses me off.. as I’m sure it will most everyone.  I can only imagine how a huge star like Oprah took that kind of unexpected treatment.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens a LOT in society.

Most people take a look at people and make a snap judgment.  That’s actually part of human nature.  We all have first impressions.   We can’t help it.

What makes it wrong is to act solely based on those first impressions. People are deeper and more complex than that.  What you see isn’t necessarily all you’ll get.

Some people, like the shop attendant, saw a black woman and didn’t see anything else.  The shop attendant automatically assumed she couldn’t possibly afford an expensive bag and treated Oprah accordingly.  A huge mistake that can and probably will eventually cost her her job.

Although this incident with Oprah is admittedly an extreme case, it is nonetheless true that people lose so much if they choose to ignore or disregard people as unimportant right off the bat.  In truth, everyone brings with them unique life experiences and stories and have something significant to share.    In fact, most people, if you get to know them better, will pleasantly surprise you.

If there’s any lesson we can take away from this, it’s this.  Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.  No matter who it is, everyone we come into contact with at work or in social situations deserves to be treated fairly and equally.  It’s never a good idea to treat people with disdain and scorn…

Who knows…  treating someone poorly might come back and bite us in the ass one day.


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