I was in my sophomore year of college when I met Candice Caruso. Having a select group of close friends, I was quite surprised to meet them for lunch one day and discover a new person sitting with them. Candice appeared to typify the role of an all-American girl: blonde and fashionable with a playful sense of humor and friendly attitude – and then I found out she had been the running back for her high school football team.
First impressions are almost never accurate, so why do we rely on them so much to inform us about the people we meet? Time and time again, people from all walks of life are classified by the impression they give without a second thought to the person beyond the first meeting.
To me, it seems everyone has a mental classification system which uses general categories to help catalog a person during a first encounter: occupation, tone of voice, clothing style, everything that can be observed and computed during this decisive period is fair game. The results determine whether or not someone is worth getting to know. After all, it’s human nature to classify and organize, and in a busy world of over six billion people, who has the time or desire to look beyond the surface?
Yet, I too had been subject to such classification. As a child – with my flat brown hair, large glasses, and extremely shy demeanor – it didn’t take long for my grade school classmates to categorize me as the quiet bookworm. And although I did, in fact, read quite a few books, there was more to me than the image I put forth to the world. I was very adventurous and liked to play sports, especially hockey; video games were my favorite way to waste time; and I could sing and draw. None of my classmates knew this, however, because so few of them bothered to go beyond their first impression.
As such, I had been surprised to find myself applying this same classification technique to Candice. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. When first told of what sports she played in high school, most people assumed Candice meant “football” in the European sense. After being corrected, they next assumed that Candice had been the kicker for her team, not blocking, running, and passing as the running back position entails. Except for her penchant for weight-lifting, Candice’s sunny attitude found no parallel in what I assumed a woman who liked to play football would be like.
Because of my experiences with a first impression never being the most accurate, I believe it’s in wise practice to learn about someone on a more personal level before passing any judgment, good or bad. And while it’s true that a gut reaction to a first impression can be accurate, you might be surprised what you’ll discover. I believe going beyond a social mask to find the person within is far better than the generalizing practice society promotes today.
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