While we may not want to admit it, we all do it. When we meet new people, we tend to size them up within a matter of minutes or even seconds. We make certain assumptions about them based on their look, clothing, gender, age, size, race, language, religion, and if blonde jokes are any indication, the colour of their hair. We decide if they are smart or dull, good or bad, rich or poor, kind or cruel, hardworking or lazy, trustworthy or corrupt, or even worthy of our attention, all within the first moments of our encounter.
There are reasons for doing this. The obvious one is for the sake of simplicity. It is easier for us to navigate our world if we organize and categorize the people, plants, animals and things we come across into some form of classification. If we didn't, it would be impossible to remember all that we encounter and know how to interact with them. It is also a form of self-preservation, enabling us to consider at a glance whether someone might be friend or foe.
But the downside, of course, is that in taking these shortcuts, in making these quick assumptions, we may dismiss people prematurely, trust others naively or behave in ways that create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we develop certain preconceived notions about people, when we base our assumptions on narrow categories or stereotypical information, it can lead, at best, to wrong assumptions and at worst to homophobic, sexist, racist and other prejudiced attitudes and behaviours that can lead to even more serious consequences, as we have so often witnessed.
There have been numerous books written about making a good first impression when we are applying for a job, going on a date, or starting anything new and we have been told that we only have one chance to make a good first impression. But that does not mean that those first impressions are permanent. We all have had experiences in which our first impressions proved inaccurate or when personal experiences have clouded our judgments and we have changed our opinions once we had the chance to get to know the other person.
It's much easier to see the world in black and white terms, but we live in shades of grey. We will not eliminate our snap judgments, but we can recognize the prejudices that we possess, take a second look and give each other a second chance.