The snap judgment. We’ve all done it. We see a person, take in their appearance and body language, size them up and draw conclusions. We may yet treat them well, but we’ve made assumptions.

Experts say that within the first 10 seconds of meeting someone, we judge their social position, heritage, education level, economic level, success level, moral character, and trustworthiness. Wow.

In college on the first day of class, lots of professors like to conduct “getting to know you” exercises. In one class I remember we were paired up with whoever sat beside us and, without speaking, we were to fill out a form about this new stranger, answering questions based solely upon their appearance. What car did this person likely drive? What kinds of grades did they get? Were they a party person? Were they hard-working or lazy?

It was enlightening to discover the signals we send and the way we came across to others. I remember being appalled-and incensed– at how, well, stupid I came across. The guy next to me guessed me for a rich party girl with average grades. A shallow, spoiled, dingbat. Okay, he didn’t use those words, but that was the gist. Was that really how I looked? In truth I was not rich, despised parties for the most part, and was an A student. Picture a blend of Harry Potter’s friend Hermione, and Anne of Green Gables. But apparently you would not have known that by looking at me.

At my last book club meeting the women were chuckling about how funny it would be to label the pews and see who sat there. “Full tithe payers” on a row up front, for example. Can’t you just see it? One row could say, “Weary moms,” one could say, “Temple-goers,” one could say, “Just here for social reasons.” One pew could say, “Hypocrites.” One could say, “Phonies.” What a riot. Imagine everyone trying to crowd into the row they wanted, whether it was a true description of them or not. (I think you might need several rows for weary moms.)  

And yet, that’s sometimes how we size people up. With one glance! We don’t like it when someone makes presumptions about us-especially on one of our worst days-yet, as humans, we do it to others all the time.

Some judging is righteous; it helps us avoid criminals and other dangerous people. Our hunches, based on subconscious warnings, often keep us safe. When we get a bad feeling about someone, it can even be the Spirit whispering to us to leave immediately for our own good. Even the scriptures tell us to judge righteously. But what about the times when it has nothing to do with self-preservation, and we’re merely being snippy or snobby?

Have you ever seen someone at church who doesn’t fit the mold? Surprise! There is no mold and if there were, none of us would fit it. But I mean someone who is terribly unkempt, not wearing church attire, and smelling of booze or tobacco? Maybe they’re missing a few teeth, maybe their clothes are dirty. I’ve watched some members back away from such people, a mixture of fear and disdain in their eyes. But then I’ve watched other members rush up to embrace the new visitor, looking past their exterior and trying to greet them as Christ would if he were there.

Church is not an exclusive club. This is not a place to show off, form cliques, or sniff at people you think are inferior. You want the great and spacious building for that. This church is one of open arms, repentance, love, and mercy. This is where we come because we know we are lacking and we cannot get home without Christ’s atonement. Not one of us is better than the next, not one of us is right to judge based on outward appearances. I once heard that a bishop said, “If our chapel doesn’t smell of tobacco, we’re not doing our job.” We should be gathering in all the people who are struggling and bring them to the best clinic where they can drink from living waters. Our pews should be a welcome refuge for anyone who wants a better life, who wants to come back to Heavenly Father again. And a humble person, scraping by and striving to overcome his demons, is actually further up the ladder than the elitist member looking down their nose at him.

Next time you’re in line at the market, or pumping gas, or in the workplace, notice the people around you and the quick conclusions you’re tempted to draw. Catch yourself judging unfairly and rewind the tape. Instead, see this person as a child of God who is loved and hoped for. Know that a Patriarchal Blessing awaits this person. Realize they cheered in the Pre-mortal World when they heard the Plan of Happiness. Ask a silent prayer to see if your path was meant to cross theirs today, to help them and bring them the truth.

And what of our own appearances? How would a stranger size us up-as someone friendly or standoffish? Are we dressed modestly? Do we project indifference or warmth? Do we look like slaves to the latest fashions? Do we look clean? Moral? Do we look like disciples of Christ? Maybe it’s time to assess the way we come across, and make adjustments in the signals we send. It might be good to remember that while we are looking around and judging others, someone might be watching and judging us as well.

Hilton just launched a blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.

Her book, “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.

And her latest three novels, “JUNGLE,” “SISTERS IN THE MIX,” and “PINHOLES INTO HEAVEN” are all available in paperback at Createspace.com, and on Kindle at www.mormonbooksandauthors.com.

Listen (and call in) to The Joni Hilton Show, streaming live on AM-1380 Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. PST.

Hilton has written 20 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California. She can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com, Twitter:@JoniHilton, and Facebook: Joni