Can you judge someone’s character just by looking at them?

Cornelius Vanderbilt was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men the world has ever known. He dominated the shipping industry when it was America’s primary means of transportation. He dominated the railroad industry when it took center stage as the nation’s preferred means of movement for people and products. In fact, the only place Vanderbilt didn’t dominate was in college football. Where his university’s football team is a consistent bottom-dweller in the SEC.

In the excellent book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (which won the Pulitzer Prize), author T.J. Stiles includes a quote about Vanderbilt from the Chicago Tribune that says, ‘He is so accurate a a judge of men, so clear-sighted, so fertile of resource, so skilful an organganizer of combinations, and the wielder of such an immense capital, that failure is next to impossible.’ That is a heck of a statement about a human. Which mean Vanderbilt was the original Parker Lewis.

The part of this quote that stands out to me is that Vanderbilt was noted for being a highly accurate judge of men. I translate men to mean people, because I often edit statements of yore to be more gender-intelligent.

If you are an accurate judge of humans you are able to surround yourself with the people of highest character. Which is key to personal happiness, friendship, and professional success. (And by highest character I don’t mean Willie Nelson.)

But how was The Commodore able to so accurately judge people? Vanderbilt himself provides an intriguing answer with the following quote:

‘God Almighty has stamped every man’s character upon his face.’

-Cornelius Vanderbilt

This is an interesting and profound statement. A statement given greater validity as it comes from one of the most successful humans of all time, known for his accurate judgement of people.

I encourage you to put this to your own test. Or said differently, I encourage you to see if you can accurately judge a person’s character simply by looking at them. Movies and TV shows regularly tap into your ability to make your own character judgements as new players are introduced and storylines develop.

Think about Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Based on the scenario, Ferris should be the bad guy, and the Principal should be the good guy. But we instinctually see it differently. And we felt validated when we learned that the actor who played the principal pleaded no contest to a charge of soliciting a 14 year old boy. #ohhhhnooooo #chickachickaaaa

You have met people you didn’t like and didn’t trust the moment you first saw them. You have likely had the opposite experience too with people you instantly liked. You may have even experienced love at first sight, like I did  20 years ago, the moment I first saw my wife on a crowded elevator. All of these experiences provide evidence that Vanderbilt may be right.

Key Takeaway

The ability to judge character is one of the greatest abilities of all. It enables you to align with the right people, and avoid the wrong. The more attuned you are to the character of others the happier and more successful you are likely to be. Assessing character may be as simple as an eye test. Try it yourself. And let me know what you find.

Published by

Adam Albrecht

Adam Albrecht is the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. He believes the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind. He also authors two blogs: the Adam Albrecht Blog and Dad Says Daughter Says, a Daddy-Daughter blog he co-writes with his 14-year old daughter Ava. Adam can be reached at adam@theweaponry.com.

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