By Lisa Sugarman
I love people. Really, I do. The majority of them, anyway. And one of the things I love most is how often people tend to surprise me in unexpectedly beautiful ways. Like when I meet someone for the first time and I’m convinced, just by the look on their face or their body language that they’re going to be unfriendly or sassy, and then they’re not. That’s my favorite.
Shame on me, too, for ever thinking that way about someone just because of the look on their face or the way they hunch their shoulders, but I think it’s just human nature to draw impulsive conclusions sometimes based on nothing more than visual perception. And I wish we didn’t react that way, but the reality is that most of us do, at least initially.
That’s why I’m always so thrilled when I’m wrong about someone. Because it’s such a refreshing feeling, kind of like a good blast of Febreze in the face, when someone we expect will be a puss, ends up being a pussycat.
Just like the middle-aged guy I pulled up next to last weekend at the Pump N Pantry, who looked me up and down the second I got out of my car with what I interpreted as a legitimate scowl on his face. It seemed like he was sizing me up to be just another soccer mom who didn’t know the difference between a cylinder head and an intake manifold. (I mean, duh.) He just seemed sour, if that makes any sense. Even though it was a just a vibe I got by the way he looked at me, it made it very easy for me to immediately form my opinion about him. And needless to say, I didn’t like him.
But then, just as we were topping off our tanks, when I least expected it, he smiled the biggest, broadest, warmest smile and out of nowhere said, You have yourself a nice day, ma’am. And just like that, he became a good guy. Go figure.
That’s the thing about vibes, they can be so misleading and unreliable because they’re usually based on nothing more than instinct. And even though instinct can sometimes be spot on, it can also just as easily miss the mark by miles. Which is too bad, because once we make an initial determination about a person and our feelings about them start heading in one direction, it’s tough to backtrack and change course.
So that little encounter made me stop and think about how often we all misjudge people—in both big and small ways—sometimes for little or no reason at all. And, how foolish we are for judging in the first place.
The thing is, oftentimes it’s not even a case of someone we meet being unfriendly or being an outright ass, sometimes it’s just as simple as them not being extroverted enough for us. Yet we still develop an opinion about them based on that first impression.
Maybe the person is shy. Maybe they’re introverted. Maybe they’ve got anxiety. Maybe they just got laid off and they’re in a silent panic about how to tell their family. Who knows? Maybe she has her period and her head is splitting (in which case you should just turn and back silently out of the room.) The point is, the more people I meet, the more I recognize that being nice or being friendly or being chatty or being social just isn’t always possible on demand.
But with a lot of people, I think it’s just as simple as penetrating the outer layers of their exterior in order to reach the soft gooey center before we pass judgment. Kind of like those hard raspberry candies they give out at the nail salon.
I guess it all goes back to the old You-Can’t-Judge-a-Book-by-its-Cover idea, which is one hundred percent true. The only problem is, we often can’t suppress our urge to make a snap judgment about people and that’s often our downfall because then we’ve typecast someone without even knowing them. And that’s unfortunate, because a lot of the time we end up being dead wrong.
That, of course, led me to the conclusion that absolutely everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt right out of the gate. Even if their first impression is a sucky one.
Why am I telling you this? Because if I tell you and it makes you think twice, then you can tell someone and they can tell someone and then, all of a sudden, the world will be a little less judgy and we’ll all be a little more tolerant with each other. In theory, of course.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.