A few things have happened recently that have me wondering about the value of first impressions. I am not by any means saying they have no value. If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's just conceivable that it might be an ugly swan. On the otherhand, it just might be a duck. There are people who rail against the unfairness of judging on first impression. Phooey. If you don't know someone or something, then first impressions are all you have to go by. And they should not be ignored entirely even if you find yourself unable to justify the impressions. While I'd never be intentionally rude, I'd rather trust my instincts and impressions than ignore them and pay a price.
That said, I want to tell you about something I witnessed at my home subway stop the other evening. Picture some guy, a big guy, in oversized, baggy trousers nearly falling off his hips, bandana wrapped around his head, dark sunglasses, head jerking to a rythym only he can hear. This guy just screamed 'urban cool.' He looked like a real bad ass who spent his grandmother's social security checks. Fifteen years ago he would have been carrying a boombox on his shoulder (think about that the next time you see someone hooked up to an iPod). Got the picture?
So there we stand waiting for the elevator to come. Normally I take the escalator but it was mobbed and I'd rather wait than feel claustrophobic in the crowd. So this guy is standing there too, right next to the elevator doors. A few other people walk up. The elevator comes and the doors open. This guy grabs the edge of the open door right away ... and then stands back to let in someone pulling a suitcase on wheels. He also lets me and everyone else get on before he does. So. Clearly not the bad ass of my first impression.
That came to mind yesterday as I was rereading Agnes and The Hitman. At the start of the book Agnes idealizes Brenda. Brenda is who she wanted to grow up to be, to the extent that she bought Two Rivers, Brenda's house. She even argues with Lisa Livia who, really, ought to know her mother better than Anges. And when Brenda does something even Agnes can't ignore, Agnes makes excuses for her until finally she sees Brenda for what she really is. Brenda, of course, went off the deep end at the end of the story; but what she was at the core really wasn't any different. What Agnes had really envied all those years was the mask that Brenda wore. Brenda knew how to say and do the right things to ... wait for it ... create an impression. And thinking about it, I've known a few Brendas, and you probably have too. Okay, maybe they didn't sabotage a wedding dress and try to kill you; but I'm betting you know someone who turned out to not be as great as you thought they were. And looking back, you can usually see all the signs you ignored early on. Just like Agnes did. So a first impression can conceal the bad as well as the good.
I was actually thinking about impressions before this, though. I have had the privilege of meeting several CBs now, and it's been amazing just how well we all click in person. A CB meet is just like hanging out at the Bar&Grill, except you probably laugh even longer and harder. I think many of us have marvelled at this. But is it so surprising really? We got to know each other long before we ever met, dispensing with that whole awkward first impressions thing.
And you know, I'd rather have the duck than the swan anyway. I've heard those big, fancy birds can be pretty viscious.