More than meets the eye

Once there was a family man, who eked out a living in Kentucky as a chicken catcher. I’m not sure how much call there is for folk to catch chickens in Kentucky, but he seemed to do all right. He spoke with a distinctive southern accent and he looked, well, he looked a little unkempt in his backwards baseball cap, baggy jeans and heavy cotton pull-on jacket. He ambled onto the stage of the talent competition carrying a cheap guitar. When he said to the judges that he wanted to sing a Garth Brooks song for them, their response – and the response of the audience – was to laugh out loud. There was something about him that caused them to sense a disaster in the offing.

The chicken catcher, confident in  his own ability and unfazed by the ridiculing laughter, started to pluck the strings of his guitar and the auditorium fell silent. He opened his mouth and began to sing.

Suddenly the expressions of those watching changed. Judges glanced at one another then each allowed themselves to focus on the scruffy farmer with the captivating voice. As he sang the last bars of ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’, the audience rose to their feet to applaud and acknowledge the talent that they had seen, the talent that had defied their expectations.

There’s a moment in every season, I can remember them all,” one of the judges said, “When somebody comes on stage, dressed like you are. Your cap’s on the wrong way round, y’know. And we’re all, like, ‘This is gonna be a total car crash.’ And then you start to sing, and within about twenty seconds you had me. And by the end of it – that was one of the most emotional, powerful performances I’ve seen in a long time.” A few moments later the same judge said, “You could win this competition.”

And Kevin Skinner, the chicken catcher from Kentucky, did win the competition – the 2009 season of America’s Got Talent.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of shows like this generally, but I love coming across moments like this. It appeals to me to see people’s expectations confounded – and I am humbled as I remember how often I make judgements about people based on what amounts to my first impressions.

Because they are exactly that: the first impressions are mine. They are based entirely on what I can see from my perspective.  I once heard someone say that we judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actions. An action that could be interpreted as coming from arrogance may in reality be motivated by insecurity. A pattern of behaviour that may appear from the outside to be a bid to control may actually be inspired by a heart that wants nothing more than to serve. The point is, we don’t know, until we look at what is happening from the other point of view.

I love the honesty in the judge’s words when he confesses that moments like this happen frequently; but nevertheless he has not learned to hold back on forming an opinion based on a competitor’s look or demeanour. It’s a lesson that I will, I suspect, never stop having to learn.  But if I aspire to be really effective, and to interact effectively with others, acknowledging that there will be more to every person than initially meets the eye is essential.

Otherwise I risk attempting to interact not with them, but my impressions and expectations of them. And, like the judges on America’s Got Talent, that will only serve to make me look rather foolish when my impressions and expectations are confounded.


In what situations do you feel you have been pre-judged? 

Who are you making potentially ill-founded judgements about? 

How could you see things from their point of view?


Kevin’s first appearance

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