When I was about 10 years old, I cooked corn on the cob, for the very first time. I added plenty of salt, and also, a load of sugar. Needless to say, it tasted pretty gross. It took me years to try corn again, even longer to get to the point of liking it.
First impressions are important. There is a Russian saying, roughly translated, states, “When meeting someone, they are judged by clothing. When they’re leaving, they’re judged by how they behaved.” So much for “judging the book by its cover.” Actually, I often judge books by their covers and I am rarely wrong.
And talking about books, I started reading the Dave Robicheaux series of mysteries with the book In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead, by James Lee Burke. Then, I went back, and read the series from the beginning. They are fantastic — Mr. Burke’s language is gorgeous even when he is describing sudden, violent death; lyrical when he’s writing about Louisiana; evocative, brutal, dark and illuminating all at the same time when writing about people. If you don’t believe how one modern writer managed to earn all these adjectives, I dare you to not think the same after you read any one of the books in the series. But my favorite of James Lee Burke still remains that first book I read.
We trust our first impressions, sometimes for a lifetime. One of the reasons is that we believe ourselves to be accurate judges of other humans. Another reason is because it takes work to change our minds, and most of us don’t want to expend the energy on unlearning something we “already know.”
I didn’t much care for our new neighbors, mainly because during our very first meeting, a year ago, the man asked if he could tear out the little hedge of bushes and little trees that divide our property. I love that bush. It attracts bees and butterflies in the summer. The trees aren’t very attractive, and they’re small, but it’s still a “volunteer” tree in a city where pretty much all of the trees were planted by the people who settled the state. So that meeting with “Mr. Anti-foliage” left a sour taste in my mouth. However, since then, they had an adorable baby girl, and more importantly, showed generosity of spirit in a time of stress and duress. In the early days of COVID-19 quarantine, they left letters tucked into the doors of all their neighbors, saying that if anyone needs anything, like groceries, they are more than happy to make a run to the store. That melted my cold, cold heart.
My kids are always pleasantly surprised when they taste some food they hated as children, but now enjoy — such as Thai food. They have learned to really appreciate the spices and tangy sauces. It is that very ability to change our minds that expands our minds.
For the most part, there is nothing wrong with first impressions that we form. Trusting our experience, or our gut (which can be the same thing, sometimes) and our lizard brain have taught most of us to “read the room,” to sense danger, to make snap judgements that could potentially save our lives.
Finally, it’s also healthy to remember that while we’re snap-judging others, we’re also being snap-judged. So maybe we should consider wearing nicer clothing when meeting someone new for the first time, and then build upon the most important part — ensuring our actions make us worthy of their love and respect.