First Impressions (and we’re not talking about Jane Austen’s first title for Pride and Prejudice)

He thinks I’m silly, shallow, and stupid, I thought. The realization came as a shock as I sat across the room from him and pondered his off-handed remark during the group discussion.

Some things he’d said before (to others) suddenly made sense. His snub of me when I tried to say hi to him earlier in the week came into focus. Suddenly, in that moment, I realized the lenses he was seeing me through and saw what he thought of me. His comment in the middle of that group conversation had hurt, stung even, and the more I thought about it and began to understand what he actually thought about me, the more it hurt. Because I think he has formed an almost completely false opinion of me without digging very deeply and it bothers me.

I understand we all see others through our own lenses. We all make judgments and decisions about who people are and what’s important to them, sometimes based on very limited knowledge or the way we interpret specific characteristics or habits. A friend once told me that when she met a guy who was confident, she often read it as cockiness and didn’t like him. I’ve been told before that people are sometimes intimidated by me, I guess because I’m an editor, relatively young, and seem to know what I’m doing.

The truth, if anyone takes the time to find out, is that I’m generally a mess. I’m not sure of myself ever. If you asked me, I’d tell you that I am where I am because God opened the doors for me to walk through and while I feel well-prepared by my training to do my work, I also feel completely unqualified to speak the Truth into teens’ lives. Most of the time, I’m fairly unsure why I’m there or what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m also shy when I meet new people and it takes time for me to get to know someone and reveal that I’m a mess. An I silly? Yes, at times. Am I shallow? I’d have to say that at times, I can be. But if we’re all honest with ourselves, we’d all have to admit to that. Am I stupid? No. Not really. I have my moments, but then we all do.

That off-handed comment hurt. But there’s a part of me that questions if there wasn’t some truth to it. Whether he meant it that way or not, his joke became a clarion call to examine myself, my life, and the way things can appear.

But it also became a caution to myself and to you. Don’t make snap judgments of people based on your own prejudices. Many times, we interpret things through our prejudices without even knowing it and just as many times, our prejudices don’t reveal the complete truth. Because she likes to wear makeup and dress a certain way, she’s a snob or more concerned with beauty than godliness. Because he seems dashing and good-looking, he must have everything all under control. Because she likes to joke around, there must not be much substance to her. Because he seems confident, put-together, and self-sufficient (everything you think you aren’t), he must be full of himself and think he’s above everyone else. Because she wears that outfit or dates that guy or whatever, she must have low morals, make bad decisions, or be stupid.

At one time or another, I’ve probably thought those things about people. Sometimes, I’ve been right, but most of the time I’ve been dead wrong. I once thought someone I went to church with was stuck up and snobby, until I took the time to get to know her and saw her heart. And most of what I had interpreted as snobby in her actually wasn’t. It was simply me applying prejudices I had developed very early in life in order to cope with the people I thought were more beautiful and popular than me and who hadn’t treated me very well. Those prejudices weren’t fair to her, and, in fact, they were absolutely wrong once I got to know her. She’s now someone I am very happy to count among my friends and acquaintances and someone who is very godly, welcoming, and loving. I simply interpreted her confidence and beauty based on my own prejudices and made her into someone she wasn’t. It was unfair to her, and it was wrong.

My advice to you: don’t stick a label on someone you barely know. Do some digging in your life and become aware of your prejudices. Then, take some time, effort, and prayer and seek to see if your assumptions about people are indeed valid or warranted. Sometimes, you may be right. More often than not, you’ll wish you hadn’t made such a snap judgment and missed out on getting to know a really wonderful person.

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