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John Masterson: 'Just 30 seconds and I know you already'

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Trump ally: Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, arrives for testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump ally: Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, arrives for testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump ally: Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, arrives for testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

There is an election across the water in one direction and an impeachment hearing in the other. All I need now is a snap general election here and I will be in front of the television 24/7 and totally happy.

I know something of most of the politicians on this side of the pond. I have some ideas formed about their views and personalities. My preconceptions colour my opinions.

But the impeachment hearings are totally different. The names and faces are new. So I have found it interesting to look at myself, and how my mind is working, at the same time as watching the interminable Q&As. I do know I come with a bias. I have no time or respect for the POTUS. I find it hard to view him as a fully functioning adult.

But, looking at the hearings, sometimes it takes a moment to figure out which camp someone is in. Which is why I was glued to Ambassador Sondland. Here was a fully paid-up Republican, a very successful businessman who had given shed-loads of money to the party over the years and even threw in a million to help pay for The Donald's inauguration. And he wasn't saying any of the things he was expected to be saying.

To begin with I warmed to the man for his many frank admissions that he 'did not recall' precise details of meetings or phone calls. We tend to like people who are like us. If I had a euro for every time I say "I can't remember", I would be as rich as Ambassador Sondland.

The most important thing for the audience to think about was, did we trust this man? Did we believe him? What was there in it for him? Could he commit political suicide because he had another life? I Googled and discovered that Sondland and his wife give massive amounts to charities and educational institutions. But then rich people do. He sounded like a very sane man from Washington State with an equally formidable wife and happy family.

Did I like him on screen? Well every now and again he laughed and that made me laugh. He seemed relaxed and that inspired confidence. When he didn't quite understand a convoluted question, he just said so. This guy was clearly very smart. He did not look or sound shifty.

I find it interesting how much we decide and assume about people we meet in a very short time. A handshake matters. Eye contact matters. People remembering your name matters, and I am useless at that - as a result, there are probably many people who think I am offhand or rude.

I will never meet Ambassador Sondland. If I am ever in Washington State he will not be inviting me to a barbecue. But despite that I have already formed an image of his back garden overlooking a lake. I see a sixty-something conservative in shorts with an open-neck business shirt (not a T-shirt man), a baseball cap his children gave him, and a few Labradors who get thrown bits and pieces. You may have a different image, but bear in mind that neither of us has any real information.

We not only form opinions based on very little information that we many not have even processed correctly, we also take massive short cuts. We expect teachers to behave in particular ways. Ditto for rock stars, gardai, dentists, shop assistants, Americans, Italians, motor bikers, nurses…. We all carry our own theories in our heads. Some of them are beliefs. Others could be prejudices.

It is a good exercise now and again to watch ourselves watching other people and examine how much we assume on how little information.

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