Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Loving Enemies (2): Bad First Impressions

Our world is so quick to take offense. Making more friends than enemies is much harder work. When it comes to first impressions, I don't know what I don't know. Yet, I rely on my first impressions to form what could be lasting judgments based on scant evidence, maybe the first few seconds of a first meeting. I am full of hidden biases -hidden from me but not necessarily from others!*

At a two-week leadership camp, my class was challenged to reset a poor first impression we had within the last day or two. The instructor mentioned that one of the most difficult blocks to reconciliation was faulty first impressions. We were asked to start over with this person, choose to engage in a casual conversation, and to do it with a sincere, open mind. As I approached this person, I was, in reality, only risking my own false prejudgments. 

You could say I passed the assignment because our visit revealed a friendly, outgoing person who didn't know or care about my first impression. The exercise proved to me that, with an intentional action, I can let the wisdom of an open mind form my impressions of others, not hidden bias or emotional reactivity. Here are some ideas to consider in forming more friends and fewer enemies:

1. What is behind my impression of this person? Is it their different-ness? Or is it something they did non-verbally or the words they spoke?  

2. Review only the last day or two of your interactions. I can only only act on what is in the present. I cannot change the past.

3. Resetting a first impression is a choice to free MY mind- it is not about changing anyone else. The work needed takes place within. With honesty, engage in honest self-examination.

4. Refrain from grand gestures. DO resist the temptation to avoid this person based on your first impression. 

5. Ask God to reveal to you a pejorative label that keeps you in the rut of making enemies. With God's help, how can you throw away a harmful label?

*In Talking to Strangers, Malcom Gladwell provides a sharp critique of the assumptions we have and the judgments we make about strangers. Gladwell substantiates his premise that much more humility and restraint is needed in truly knowing a person we do not know. A notable example Gladwell gives: a computer can do a better job determining whether a perpetrator will repeat a crime than the judge, who relies on the first impression of looking the offender square in the eye. 

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