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How to effectively judge people

John Everett | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Despite being routinely complimented on all facets of my personality, there is still one characteristic of mine that I never tire of hearing lauded. People often tell me that I am one of the best judges of character they have ever known.

I mention the praise of others not because I needed it to recognize my own worth, but because I can see why some among my scant readership might harbor doubt. Doesn’t everyone think they are good judges of character?

However, when I say that I am great at judging character, I do not merely mean, like the majority of claimants, that I can tell whether a person is good or bad, trustworthy or dishonest.

No, I can do far more than simply put people into one of two categories. You see folks, humanity is not binary; there is variation. What is necessary is a level of comparative judgment. Yes, we can all recognize that the platitude repeater in the first row of our philosophy class is not someone with whom we would like to associate, but say an evil billionaire said you had to either be stuck on an island with him or your shrewish ex-girlfriend. Which scenario would be worse?

I’ve decided to help out should this nightmare scenario ever come to fruition. My own breakthrough on this came when I realized that the best way to judge people on this Earth, since we can never really know what secret motives they might possess or what lurking terrors roam their consciences, is to evaluate them based solely on how much you enjoy their company.

Using religious, moral or ethical standards, or any standard which does not come from within, is insincere. We all like some fairly awful people, and there are saints who try our patience.

I have determined that there are nine basic circles of how much I appreciate someone. The model sounds very much like Dante, and I will admit to some influence from that great source, though a crucial difference is that there are positive as well as negative circles contained within this nine.

The first four circles are all enjoyable people, however, the levels serve as an indicator of degree. Circle 1 is the select collection of people whose presence would always be enjoyable to you. This is a distinction indeed. Placing a person here means that it would not upset you to have them knock at the door on your wedding night. I mean, who wants that oh-so-special Scrabble game interrupted?

Circle 2 is where most friends will end up, as nearly everyone can be grating occasionally. Circle 3 is people you like, but not that much. It is handy to think of this level in terms of favors. These are people you wouldn’t want to pick up at the airport.

Circle 4 is reserved for bad people whom you still enjoy. Basically, these people are funny, or brilliant, while possessing debilitating flaws. Perhaps you might say about someone in Circle 4, “I wish Grover would cut down on the drinking, but he makes me laugh.”

Circle 5 is the waiting station. This is the collection of people on whom there is insufficient information on which to judge. In my case this boils down to people I have never seen. If you’ve been in my line of sight for longer than 5 seconds, chances are you are not in Circle 5.

Circle 6 is the reverse of Circle 4, the home for the saints we can not stand. Maybe they’re too squeaky-clean, or oddly nice, or any of 100 things that sound crazy when you try to explain them in print. I’m going to guess you get what I mean and move on.

The last three levels are where it starts to become difficult, as this is where everyone you seriously dislike is going to wind up. Now, most people I dislike I dislike nearly equally, however, it is important again to remember that we are not looking at this through any socially constructed code, so you are not judging these people as worse than one another.

What you must ask is whether there is any part of your dislike that might be considered unreasonable. It is possible that all of these people deserve to burn in Circle 9 (after all, if you dislike them, they must be unsavory characters, no?) but if there is any doubt in your mind, then you must allow them to rise to Circles 7 or 8, depending on the magnitude of your doubt.

Don’t fret too much though, once you get more evidence on how bad someone is, you can slide them down without reservation. Imaginary vengeance is always more enjoyable when backed by certitude.

So there you have it, a handy guide to ranking the people you encounter everyday, be they friends, classmates or unwitting archenemies. Now you’ll be ready when that island-owning billionaire comes to call.

John Everett is a senior English major. He is thought to be somewhere between 21 and 45 years of age. He is armed only with a sharp wit and is considered cantankerous. If you have any information regarding his whereabouts, please contact [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.