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Friday, July 12, 2013

It's OK, Dustin Hoffman. I wouldn't have noticed you either

Maybe you've seen the viral video of Dustin Hoffman talking about how he prepared for his role in "Tootsie." He describes how he wanted to experience walking around New York City as a woman -- and how, after makeup and wardrobe, he found two things surprising:

1) He wasn't very pretty.
2) As such, he was invisible to most people.

Hoffman chokes up as he describes his realization that he had missed myriad opportunities to talk to amazing women because he didn't find them attractive and so didn't even notice them.

Many woman love this video because, yeah, they noticed that people don't notice them.

But I have to confess, I wouldn't notice Dustin Hoffman either. My eyes would slide right over a short guy with a big nose, slotting him into the category of nebbish-y short guy who probably needs to make himself feel big by being a jerk. (A category people with men I've encountered in my life.)

So the lesson here is not that men are missing out, or that women are right and we've been saying this since the 1950s -- how nice a man has validated it, but that we're all missing out. We're programmed, by our survival instincts, to seek out friendly faces. We want to find a tribe, and if all we have to go on is appearance, our lizard brains will go for that.

Fortunately, we have human brains too. So here's an experiment for the next time you're in a group that you can observe.

First, notice your own mind. What's there? Anxiety? Arrogance? Openness? Curiosity? Judgment? Comparison?

Then glance around the room. See who's there. Notice who draws you're attention and who makes your eyes move faster.

Check in with yourself again. Sip your drink.  Have some snacks. Look at the time.

Now look around again. And this time, notice who you did not notice before.

They are there, the invisible ones. In every group. If you're feeling brave, go talk to one. They may be interesting.

They may even be Dustin Hoffman.