5 min read

Flip Flops?

Some thoughts about snap judgments.

March 10, 2019

No newsletter last week. I missed the writing time, but spent most of my Sunday wandering around Ballard with friends from college who were visiting from out of town.

Thanks to everyone who reached out and asked if I’d planned on sending a newsletter last week. I bagged it, but we’re back this week, fresh with a few thoughts and also a few of two-week old recommendations.


My office is one small-ish front room in a co-working space, looking out over a parking lot and the very busy Westlake Avenue in Seattle. Our desks and monitors face a set of floor-to-ceiling windows that automatically adjust their as the sun makes it way over the large building and into the western sky. (It’s a weird function—we don’t love it. In a city where people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency and Season Affective Disorder, we’ll take the glare, thank you very much.)

My desk in particular also shares a large window with the entry way to the office building, such that when I join a video call people often think I’m sitting outside.

So I see a lot of foot traffic. I hear the building’s front doors creak on their hinges. And I spot the people from out of town dressed for important client meetings (heels, blazer, briefcase) and Seattle workers (comfortable shoes, plaid, dog on a leash). And earlier this week, I saw a man walk in wearing flip flops. In the cold, early-March rain.

He was otherwise dressed to keep the freezing cold water off his bare skin. And as he ambled into the building, I sipped my coffee in judgment, felt a little disgusted with myself for making assumptions, and swiveled back to the morning news.

In the span of what probably clocked in around 15 seconds, I ran my office-building neighbor through the wringer. He probably drove on his commute, which meant he thought less of public transit or was too lazy to plan for it. He preferred comfort over practicality (it’s Seattle—get some waterproof boots!), another sign of laziness, which maybe meant he didn’t care much about his diet either.

With no more than a mental snapshot, I projected so many of the societal pressures that drive my own existential decision-making onto a guy casually walking into work. I almost let myself get away with it.

Moments like this don’t get analyzed in prose. They get tossed over a shoulder to a spouse as we unload the groceries after work . “You know, I saw a stupid choice of footwear today. I mean what are people THINKING? You know what, they aren’t. THAT’S the whole dang problem.”

Laugh. Keep unloading produce. Move on.

Flip Flops Guy gave me pause—even if he kept on walking—and not just the kind of moment you might take to briefly scold yourself.

About twice a year, someone recommends an episode of The Ezra Klein Show, an interview podcast from the Vox co-founder. I usually listen over the course of a few days because I’m not always in the mood for the Deep Conversations With Very Interesting People You Should Know About format, especially when my attention span is waning.

This year, the first recommendation came early.* On January 31, Klein released an interview with Cornell-based philosopher Kate Manne, who is also the author of a book called Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. I’ll save my own feminist self-discovery for other newsletters. What struck me about this episode was this quote from Manne, who was speaking about the angry, visceral reactions of elevator riders to people facing the “wrong way” while riding. (This portion of the conversation starts at around the 28:00 minute-mark.) Assumptions fill the elevator. People get angry.

“I’m probably capable of getting the wrong idea because clarifying what one actually thinks as opposed to what one’s been inculcated to believe—that’s the work of a lifetime,” says Manne in the interview. “It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s also a daunting one.”

The root of this idea—that a staggering number of learned-societal cues combined with instinctual behavior lead us to snap judgements about the people and things in our immediate surroundings—isn’t new at all. It’s a basic tenet of self-awareness. It’s the back half of Manne’s quote that really sings.

Clarifying what one actually thinks is the work of a lifetime.

Let that cook your noodle for a bit.

Manne’s elevator riders and my Flip Flops Guy are the mundane versions (but still complex) types of assumptions and judgements we make--the byproduct of the human brain working twelve hours a day as hard as it can to simplify the world around us to keep us safer and make us smarter. But take misogyny—the topic of Manne’s book—or any systemic -ism, and instead of thinking about it as a thick, gray cloud of hatred you’d rather avoid feeling or encountering, think about it as the networked observations and beliefs of millions of humans, cast against an individual person.

We’re constantly absorbing the behaviors and thoughts of those around us and using them to explain other people instead, usually because we are moving too fast to take the time to see other people for who they are. (And yeah, we don’t need to Really Know everyone, but that isn’t the point.) It’s a pretty magnificent human feat of the mind, and it’s also hella dangerous.

Noticing what we’re thinking when we’re thinking it is the first step. It takes a bit more bravery to interrogate ourselves and account for why we’ve put those thoughts together. And this means accepting mistakes, owning that even with the best intentions we can still create conflict, and being courageous enough to learn from these observations. Otherwise, we’ll be reinforcing our own prejudices.

How’s that noodle?

You do you, FFG. It certainly doesn’t matter what I think.

*Guess who recommended the podcast?

Weekly Recommendations


I need to reach back to late February to strongly suggest that you read Casey Newton’s exposé on the call-center style contractors who moderate content on Facebook. Newton writes a chilling portrayal of the people that are tasked with combing through the detritus and offals of the world’s largest social network.

Read The Trauma Floor, whether you use social media much or not.

Support A Talented Poet

It is such a treat to recommend TAP OUT, the first published collection of poems from my dear friend Edgar Kunz. Much the way that Justin Torres’ book We The Animalsloosely weaves lyrical memories into a portrait of a family, TAP OUT gathers a vision of working class childhood in New England in a suite of powerful, visceral moments. Edgar’s control of his diction is outstanding and he effortlessly throws the switch to speed us forward and backward through time as the speaker experiences it.

Get a paperback copy, catch E on tour in your city, or join us in Seattle when he reads at Third Place.


  • Solange’s When I Get Home, a beautiful follow up to A Seat At The Table
  • It’s SXSW week, so listen to my second-favorite band from Austin, White Denim

Next Up On The Nightstand

  • Finishing the last 100 pages of Michelle Obama’s stunning memoir, Becoming, after letting it sit a while. Obama writes so beautifully and accurate about family—it was tough to read while still caring for and losing Mom.
  • Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town
  • And maybe if I’m feeling ambitious, Marlon James’s new book Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Full disclosure, I tapped out of A Brief History Of Seven Killings a couple of years back while reading it for a book group.

That’s it for this week. Keep sending your thoughts and feedback. It’s great to hear from you.