“I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes,” said Elinor, “in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge.” ~ Sense & Sensibility
Judging others is always dangerous. In Austen’s works, we see much of the characters’ folly amounts to their fault judgement of another’s conduct and intentions. I’m currently reading Northanger Abbey—a delightful story about a naive young girl, whom I adore—and I can’t help but notice how many people say one thing but actually do or mean another. The main character, very innocent and truthful herself, believes what others say about others and what others say about themselves. Only, all this talk turns out to be the exact opposite of the truth.
In the quote above, Elinor Dashwood is voicing a realization that she has had about her own judgements of character—they are often made too readily and, therefore, are often wrong. I find that people that I get the worst first impressions from end up becoming dear friends. And, sadly, those I’ve had the best first impressions of sometimes turn out not to be as genuine.
If we get only one message, one note of caution, from Miss Austen, I would say it is this: Be careful of your judgements. Don’t take what people say about themselves as gospel truth, nor what they say about others. Discern for yourself. Give everyone time to show who they really are on the inside. Extend grace and benefit of the doubt. And, if you discern bad character, don’t gossip about the person. Try instead to gently guide them right where you can, to always hope for their realization and improvement, and only get involved where not to would be a sin.
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. ~ John 7:24 (ESV)