|Underestimation: Judging a book by its cover|
|By Joe Bouchard|
A colleague from Virginia recently imparted some vocational wisdom. (We’ll call him Lt. J.) One of Lt. J’s many professional functions is as a training coordinator for four jails. The point that Lt. J made was “it is easy to underestimate someone based on stereotypes or limited information.” And this is how it came up.
He and I put together a module on staff relations. On the maiden voyage of this training, Lt. J mentioned to the class that the initial author (yours truly) also works as a prison librarian. The job title evoked some groans from the audience. Lt. J discovered that the common sentiment was “what would a librarian know about anything?”
This is a classic example of underestimation.
Underestimation is a critical error that we have all made from time to time. So many of us can become surprised or physically hurt because we apply too little vigilance or not enough caution. This is because we are lulled into complacency. The best example is when we are lax around a normally compliant and quiet offender. We fail to be prepared for the idea that the prisoner will not always be that way and could possible explode into violence.
There are many other examples of how we simply read the book by its cover and go no deeper into our investigations.
Often we ignore the lure of the underground economy. Yet, contraband continues to flow under our collective noses. We are simply unwilling to believe that extensive trade can exist. But such trade results in an individual or groups if offenders becoming more powerful. Thus, staff, other prisoners, and the public can be hurt due to something that we overlook because it does not appear dangerous on the surface.
We also underestimate the wisdom of our colleagues. For example, Lt. J told his class that the librarian is in a good position to gain a greater perspective. After all, if the librarian is a good listener, is analytical, and is patient, he could gain plenty of information. The library is an information hub for staff and offenders. By simply remembering the questions posed by patrons, the librarian knows the general information needs.
When we write off a colleague due to his position rather than his abilities, we unwittingly build walls of staff division. Distrust and ignorance are mortars that bind those bricks. This becomes a wall that obscures safety.
Do we underestimate ourselves? Certainly, we do not always meet our potential. However, when push comes to shove, we can be more resourceful than we could have guessed.
Of course, ironically, we can overestimate the act of underestimation. In other words, we can overanalyze any situation until we are stultified. On the other end of the extreme of judging a book by its cover is over analysis. That is like reading between each line. However, the meaning that you apply to words not written simply is not there.
Back now to Lt. J.’s class…
The students may have different experiences with library staff than most corrections staff. They have their vocational past as their template. However, not all staff operate in the same manner. We must prepare to be surprised. You don’t know what is in the book until you analyze the content. Doing so may provide insight to make your day safer.
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