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You Have to Probe Deeper: Why First Impressions Are Dangerous

Do you remember when, as a small child at a birthday party, you sat wide-eyed and gaping as a magician pulled out a rabbit with a flourish from a seemingly empty top hat?

At the time, the wonder of it all left you speechless and full of awe, but like all healthy children, you grew a little wiser as you grew a little older.

The next time you were present at such a performance, the "magician" might have turned into a "conjurer." You might have enjoyed the show every bit as much, but you now knew that sleight of hand, not black magic, was the name of the game.

It's a great pity that when we finally emerge into adulthood, we tend to forget what we learned about those crafty conjurers who entertained us in our youth.

Yes, our intellects may have matured greatly over the years. But for all that, we don't draw enough on our youthful understanding of the "sleight of hand" concept to make further logical distinctions along the same lines.

More specifically, and simply put, we often don't appreciate enough that things are not always what they're cracked up to be!

The end result is that we fall prone to a kind of mental laziness that allows us to accept everything that bombards our senses at face value, without probing deeper. At times, we may even regress so much that we are still viewing life's events as the small child views his first magician show.

It's not only little toddlers at birthday parties whose mind's are deceived. If you're at all human (and who isn't), it may happen to you almost very day.

A woman was once riding on a subway train when six exceptionally boisterous children burst into the carriage and plunked themselves down on a seat near her. Almost automatically, the woman cringed. She wondered how she would survive the rest of the journey.

Then a few seconds later a gentleman stepped into the coach, trudged in a rather lethargic manner over to the children, and sighing deeply, sat down next to them. The woman relaxed a little. He must be their father, and undoubtedly he would keep the young brats in order.

But to her consternation, the five kids didn't let up in their wild exuberance for a second. They continued to jump up and down and race around the coach, yelling their little lungs out all the while, while the father just sat there in almost a trance-like state, as if deep in a meditation exercise.

Finally, our lady passenger could tolerate this no longer. She went over to the father and berated him in the strongest language she could command for not exerting himself to control his insufferable children.

"Yes, you're right," he acknowledged very softly, his voice almost choking. "They really should behave with more consideration. We're just now returning from the hospital, where their mother died two hours ago..."

This widespread human failing - of neglecting to look below the surface - is the root cause of much of the misery that people inflict both on themselves and upon others. It leads to hasty judgments and overly superficial evaluations that wreak havoc with all kinds of social relationships.

The inclination to pass hasty judgment on the actions of our peers is indeed an all too human one.

Inevitably it leads to feelings of resentment and other powerful emotions, none of which are too good for either our physical or emotional health. More significantly, our tendency to jump to conclusions must obviously lead to negative consequences regarding our relationship with the person or people concerned.

This is especially true when our suspicions turn out to be unfounded, or the people had valid reasons for behaving as they did. And this happens more frequently than any of us would care to admit. We forget that we are often in a position of someone who starts a novel at chapter three!

Practical exercises

So what are we going to do about it? Each one of us is as human as the next person. Can we really change our inborn natures?

Yes, we certainly can! Surely nothing worthwhile comes easy, but change is well within our ability. And I can prove it to you. Do you know how?

When it comes to judging our own selves, we all suddenly have a remarkable capacity to judge favorably. When we are say, late for an appointment or forget to keep a promise, we're usually not slow in finding excuses for ourselves. After all, we have so much on our mind or are working under such stress. (Of course, when another does the same to us, we find no justification for such rudeness, ingratitude or inconsideration!)

And if we can be lenient with ourselves, we can train ourselves to be lenient with others as well. It's a matter of practice - analogous to excercising a weak muscle to strengthen it.

We can kill the habit of looking only at the surface by training ourselves to give our family, friends and colleagues the benefit of the doubt, in all sorts of situations that come up in daily life. Here are a couple of examples:

  • You arrange to meet your friend downtown for coffee at a certain time. You wait and wait, but she doesn't show up. From the window during the bus journey home, you see her strolling casually down the street. The expected phone call of apology also doesn't materialize.

    Think of possible valid reasons for your friend's seemingly inexplicable conduct. Perhaps she misunderstood the date or time you arranged? Perhaps what looked like a casual stroll from the fast moving bus was really a rush to an emergency? Perhaps her phone is out of order?

  • You have an ongoing ailment and you have to report weekly at the clinic for a certain medical test. Usually, the nurse in charge hands you the result on the spot.

    This time, a new nurse is on duty. She declines to tell you the result, citing official policy that only a doctor can give it to you at a prearranged appointment. You're fuming, because you know no one gives a hoot for official policy at this clinic.

    Consider that this time the test result might not be exactly what you were hoping it would be, but the nurse wasn't sure whether she was interpreting it correctly. Perhaps she had been loathe to upset you - possibly for nothing - until she had checked with the doctor. More likely than not, this is what actually happened!

A final tip: here's one technique to help you feel positive even to people who annoy you. When somebody does something that makes you mad, don't start cursing or thinking to yourself "What a horrible pest!"

Close your eyes for a moment, either physically or mentally. Try to imagine that person as a baby. Conjure up in your mind an image of that person's mother, taking up that baby in her arms with feelings of joy and unqualified love.

Now, close your eyes tighter and try to feel a little bit of that love.

Azriel Winnett is creator of - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily

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