When I first met John, I thought he was just another dumb jock. He was tall, dark, handsome and had a Jersey accent. I had low expectations. I’d met this type before, people who relied on their looks. John was nice, yet I was cautious. I didn’t have enough information. The culture at the time was “image is everything” and this depicted what the last two decades had been about. Image sometimes is just a facade. My dog Trapper, on the other hand, ran after this man as if to say “I like this one Mom, can he be my buddy?”. My dog based his assessment by his senses and mine was based on past experience.
It only takes 1/10th of a second to make a first impression, to determine if we are safe or feel threatened. The next few moments, information is filtered through our value system. We feel safer with people who appear to be familiar. If a person reminds you of someone that you like, they will most likely be given the benefit of the doubt.
Apparently, animals navigate through the world differently. Trapper was rarely fooled. He didn’t care what car they drove or if they wore a tie. While having a party, Trapper once saw someone who looked like my old boyfriend. He enthusiastically started running towards him, then he braked, backed up and started barking. Trapper was part Beagle and made a woo-woo-woo sound. This was not his friend! This was an impostor! Even though he had been initially mistaken, he did not let this rule his senses. People tend not to do this. We can be easily fooled by someone who “appears” safe. Unlike a dog, we can’t smell a rat.
Just because someone is well mannered, nicely dressed and drives an expensive car doesn’t mean they are happy or well to do. It could mean that they are seriously in debt. We craft the image that we want to project because we know how lasting first impressions are. Ted Bundy had fooled two wives into thinking he was a nice guy and we all know how that turned out.
My Mom just turned 91. Age has caught up to her. It is hard for her to muster enough energy to hold a conversation. Because it takes a lot of effort for her to speak, she tends not to talk much at all. People jump to the conclusion that “she’s not all there”. When this happens, I see her get depressed, she withdraws and appears vacant. It has been ingrained in us to make this assumption with anyone who is not able to hold a fluid conversation. The thing is, we just don’t know what someone is thinking!
When people meet my daughter Jessie, they notice her porcelain-white skin and ready smile. Then they notice that she doesn’t look them directly in the eye and then they realize she doesn’t talk. This is all the info they need to define her. End of story. Unfortunately, if people aren’t familiar with those that march to the beat of a different drummer, then they don’t have any innate ability to draw an accurate read. So I share our story. I tell them about her challenges and then there is an awkward pause. Then they blurt out, my “child is… on the honor roll, travel team” or whatever accomplishment they can think of. These comments are fear based. Fear of what would they do if their child had been born with an extra dose of special. They say these things to validate themselves that all is well in their world.
I guess what this all boils down to is we can’t change that first split second impression, however, we can change the filters that we use when we assess someone. If they happen to be older and age has set in, give them time. If someone has special needs and they don’t talk, give them time. You may be rewarded with a glimmer that you did not expect. I pray that one day in the near future, that people set aside their preconceived ideas and realize that there is more to people than what meets the eye. Only time will tell.
Test yourself and see how well you do judging people based on your first impression
PS- my husband may have been a jock, but by no means is he dumb, he’s a rocket scientist! When I’m wrong, I’m really wrong!