“Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.” ~ Epictetus
That darn Ward Cleaver! I get so frustrated because he always jumps to a conclusion and wants to harshly reprimand or punish Beaver or Wally before he hears the whole story. About the time I’m exclaiming how unfair he is, something usually happens and Ward is forced to hear the rest of the story, at which point he usually softens and says something very nice to the boys. If only he had read Epictetus and waited before letting that first impression of a situation cloud his judgment, there would have been fewer apologies necessary coming from him to his children. Ward Cleaver is a fictional character, but he was created to mirror many real-life characters like you and me. Maybe we can learn from him and take time to learn the rest of the story.
Leave it To Beaver is an easier way to begin my day than today’s news, so most mornings I take 30 minutes to enjoy my coffee with this family addressing many of the same issues we address today — the temptation to tell lies, the acceptance of unusual people as friends, and the rush to judgment over what we see on the news or hear through the grapevine. Yes, we surely do let first impressions ruin possibly great relationships and opportunities, don’t we?
When I searched Google for “first impressions,” the first item to pop up was a dental business. That makes sense since our smile is often the first thing people see about us, but I’m hoping to help us move beyond that rush to judgment based on a person’s appearance. Not only do we judge people first by their appearance but also by their actions (rightly so, at times), and I’m here to tell you that I remember a few people whose off-color humor forever kept them out of my circle of friends. It seems, then, there are two items to be addressed:
- How to stop rushing to judgment about a person or situation
- How to undo the bad first impression we may have made
For the first part of this, it’s about being intentional. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible. You meet someone and immediately think, “Gosh, they talk funny,” (my cousin once took me out to talk for people when we were kids), and you peg them as a certain kind of person. Turns out, not everyone who talks that way is whatever way you were thinking they might be. Not every person who has dreadlocks is a dirty hippie, not every person who drives a fancy car is a snob, and…well, you get the picture. We have to give people a chance. Take a breath. Stop overreacting and start saying, “I need a minute.” Maybe your kid did do what it appears he did, but maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was the neighbors who drove through your yard, but maybe it wasn’t.
When we react to people and to situations too quickly, it’s hard to recover — ever. Lucky for Ward, he was just a character on television, but in real life a kid would be beaten down from how many times he doubted his kids. You and I don’t have to be right all the time, so give others a chance to prove they aren’t in the wrong. Be the balanced thinker in your group.
The second part is tougher because it involves you, another person, and an ego or two. That’s not easy. I had a bad day, was a little snappy, which is so unlike me, and I left a bad first impression with someone I met. Have you ever done that? We can either say, “Well, their loss if they judge me by that one meeting,” or we can go back a little later and say, “Hey, I really want to apologize for the way I came across the other day.” Every situation is different, but just like Ward needing to go back and eat a little crow every now and then, sometimes the relationship matters enough to us to do the same.
Whether it’s the impression of someone else or the one you fear you’ve made, this might just be the perfect time to say, “Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent.” Relationships deserve a second look, don’t you think? Maybe today you and I will take time to learn the rest of the story.