I spend a lot of time around military officials for my job, and I’ve often heard top-level brass say that the Pentagon has a perfect record predicting the next war: It hasn’t once been right.
I have a similar success record when it comes to people. My first impressions are almost always way off-base.
I’m not talking about those icky gut feelings that alert you that someone might be dangerous or something is off. Those tend to be pretty accurate. I’m talking about the much shallower thoughts that cross my mind: those mean impulses that prompt me to write someone off because they dress strangely, or look different, or have a funny social behavior or two.
I’m sure none of you struggle with such a horrible instinct, but I definitely do. I may not act on these feelings, but they’re there, coloring my judgment and making me more closed to potential friendships.
This is one reason I am so, so grateful to be part of several long-term communities—primarily my church—that allow me to spend extended amounts of time with people I might not have otherwise paid much attention to. As I think back over my adult life, I realize that, almost without fail, the people I was initially inclined to judge for whatever little reason have become my closest and most trusted friends. Whatever little surface-y thing prompted me to judge them at first disappears almost instantly from my consciousness as I get to know them.
As I’ve written about before, my husband is no exception to this rule. When I first met him, he was almost painfully quiet, with long sandy hair and a red beard. I thought he was funny-looking and strange, honestly. Sure, he has changed quite a bit since I first met him—and his hair looks a lot less wild these days. But I have changed much more by learning to look past his rough exterior and mannerisms and by falling in love with his soul.
The hilarious irony about all of this is that I am totally awkward and quirky. I don’t dress trendily, and I’m clumsy and absent-minded. In short, I give people making surface-y snap judgments plenty of reasons to write me off. In fact, I think one of the reasons I initially react to those who look or seem different is because I see a small reflection of myself in those things.
That may be why I have learned to love and treasure so many people I initially judged.
It may also be that people who stand out to me as different are exceptionally open, original, and free—and my soul resonates with that once I can get past my snap judgments. I wonder sometimes if there are other beautiful friendships I’ve missed out on because I let shallow first impressions get in the way.
So, I am resolving to short-circuit this cycle. When I’m tempted to judge people on first impression, I want instead to take the opportunity to learn more about them and to get to know them on a deeper level. I’ll remember my “perfect” track record and assume that this may be a wonderful friend I just don’t know yet. Care to join me?