Things Are Not Always As They Seem

It’s pretty much accepted we form first impressions very quickly and on quite limited information. I know I do, and it’s a habit that doesn’t always serve me well. The problem is that it’s only a short step from first impression to a whole set of assumptions and expectations about people.

This experience was recounted to me a few years back by Nada, probably one of the most fully alive people I know.

I was on a retreat in a forest by the side of a lake. It was one of those amazingly peaceful places where you can really feel the Earth beneath your feet and the Heavens sheltering you overhead.

One morning I decided to take a swim in the lake and, as there was no sign of any other people, I left all my clothes on the shore and went into the water completely naked. I paddled out maybe 50 metres from the shore and much to my horror, heard the sound of motorbikes.

Before I had any chance to react, the bikes had stopped and 5 leather-clad, bearded,  tattooed bikers hopped off their machines and sat down on the gravel right next to where I’d left my clothes. They were as close to stereotypical ‘Hell’s Angels’ bikers as you could imagine and my heart was pumping with fear.

What to do?

I paddled around for a while hoping they hadn’t seen me and might go away. After some minutes they seemed to have settled down and showed no signs of leaving. By now I was cold and tired. There was nothing I could do except trust in my fate and hope that the worst that would happen was that they would see my naked body. I fought hard to keep out the other terrible thoughts trying to enter my head as I swam slowly towards the seated men. They had certainly seen me as they just sat staring at me.

As I got closer, one of the men stood up and grabbed something from my clothes and made a movement towards me. My heart stopped as he carried on, right into the water, until it came over his boots and carried on further until he was up almost to his waist. He turned his head away, held out the towel that he’d picked up and wrapped it around my body – shielding me from the view of his friends.

He took my hand and helped me out of the water.

Signalling to his friends, they got on their motorbikes and drove away. I never saw them again.”

I’m a great believer in intuition but I often find it hard to distinguish it from the media stereotypes, passed on prejudice, past experiences and other peoples’ stories I carry around with me. In other words, it’s very easy to confuse intuition with first impressions.

Here are a few pointers towards what might be ‘faux-impressions’ of people:

  • They clearly fit into a popular media stereotype
  • My reaction is mainly in my head, not in my body
  • I’m reacting to them strongly after only just meeting them
  • I’ve already heard a lot about them from other people.

After all, I want to recognise the uniqueness in all human beings and accept they will not conform with my stereotypes or expectations. I want to enjoy that people are always full of surprises.

Have you had situations where your first impressions were proved hopelessly wrong?

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