When Abbie Conant auditioned for the orchestra in Germany, she was considered to be the best of the best, until the screen went down and she was revealed to be a woman.
When I was accepted in to my first job at a furniture delivery company, I was seen as a valuable asset to the team, until the first shipment of chairs came and everyone remembered that “girls were weak”.
A delivery truck had just backed into the parking lot, carrying a shipment of 85 task chairs, each one nestled inside cardboard boxes taller than the average human. My boss told me that I would be unloading the truck and handing the boxes over to the guys on the ground, so I hoisted myself inside the truck and starting pushing one of the boxes out. However, halfway to the edge of the truck, one of my male coworkers took the box out of my hands and said, with a smile, “It’s alright. I got this.”
I stood there. I knew I had just experienced a tiny sliver of everyday sexism, but I also knew that my coworker was just being nice. I wanted to be appreciative, but I was hurt. I might be a woman but I was not a weakling. But instead of bothering to notice that I was tall, strong, and in the employment of other furniture movers, my coworker only “listened with his eyes” and saw I was a woman.
To “listen with your eyes”, according to Malcolm Gladwell, is to make an assumption based on bias, ignoring any and all facts that contribute to disprove those prejudices. Abbie Conant played her instrument beautifully but was rejected for being a woman. I was handling the furniture boxes well on my own, but was seen as automatically incompetent for the same reason.
So when Gladwell began discussing the phenomenon of “listening with your eyes”, it was nothing new to me. The idea had simply been given a name, but an accurate one. It leads to the idea that maybe, just maybe, is we “closed our eyes” more often, we’d see so much more.