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July 11, 2012 / windlessly

Impressions

I think we’re made to be social creatures. There are so many subtle nuances to human behavior, especially when in groups larger than one (though okay fine we can say there are a lot of subtleties to individuals as well) that I don’t think it will ever be completely understood by any one person. Being in Taiwan for a summer program and surrounded by so many new individuals like myself- in many ways, actually, from ethnicity to passions to talents to backgrounds to interests to age- has really got me thinking about the way I act, the way I view myself, and the way I think about others. And what better time to theorize than past 1:30am?

But I want to talk a little about initial impressions. People have always said that first impressions are the most important, but I disagree. After what I’ve seen and experienced in just the last week and a half, it is the second and third and fourth impressions that really define a relationship. I’ve met plenty of people in the past 11 days. I’ve gone through countless introductions, shaken numerous hands, memorized a plethora of names (half of which I sadly don’t remember now). But at that moment that I meet someone new, that I start to form my initial impressions, we are still complete strangers. My friend Ryan wrote about it here, and there is a stunning truth to two complete strangers becoming aware of each other’s existence for the first time- there is no social obligation, no previous prejudices that get in the way. So in a way, initial impressions are very objective. That guy’s bleached hair is funky. Wow, she’s really pretty. Wow, she’s really not pretty. That guy is a dick. Why is she so awkwardly shy? Why can’t this guy learn to shut his mouth? It’s an unconscious move on the part of your brain to begin sorting and labeling people, often based from previous “archetypes,” again something that my buddy Ryan pinpointed in his own post. (I don’t link to other people’s blog a lot… you know I really respect his writing when I do it TWICE in one night). You’re sizing people up, measuring initial clues and actions to infer to what kind of a person you THINK they are.

But the key word there is “think.” Quite frankly, you still have no idea what kind of a person they are. No matter how perceptive you are, five minutes of interaction is not going to glean anything of importance from their character. (The following obligatory Facebook stalk will not reveal much else of value either.) I’ve often wondered what constitutes a “close friend.” Is it simply knowing a LOT about a person, the color of their eyes, their favorite color, their favorite food, their shoe size and etc.? Is it being aware of their more personal issues or emotional struggles? Or is it experience that really bonds people together? Or is it something completely different- the ease at which you can talk to each other, how comfortable you are in approaching “personal” subjects, how many interests or ways of thinking you share? You can talk to a complete stranger pretty comfortably about personal issues, after all. You can know a lot about one of your friends but still feel very distant.

I have absolutely no idea, so I guess I will keep pondering that in the future. (Sorry, if you were looking for the answers to all these questions I raise, you’re looking in the wrong place). It’s probably a mixture of all the above, so again, the complexity of human tendency…! I mean, Ryan, Kevin, and I have had a heck of a bonding experience killing our first cockroaches, dealing with Taiwan life and mopping our floor (and doing laundry), and climbing THIS mountain at 4:30 in the morning.

And the same goes for the rest of our group at Jiufen… Hursuong (H-swag), Emily, Jocelyn… just the fact that we’re living together and teaching at the same school (and filling out downtime with crazy fun games) makes us feel like a very tight-knit group. Especially after the experiences we’ve shared- I’m thinking of the thirty-five minute long performance that we pulled off with half a day’s time.

But that isn’t to say I dont feel the same sort of bond with other people I’ve met in the past 11 days with whom I’ve only hung out with a couple of times. Which brings me back to first impressions- or rather, the ensuing impressions I form that shape the initial ones I had. Let me explain: (I tend not to be very succinct after 2am)

I’ll start off with something basic- male/female attractions. Oooh come on we’ve all done it, stop lying. Naturally you see someone of the opposite sex and you decide (almost instantaneously) whether you find them attractive or not. Then they open their mouth and you make a second opinion (guys, I’m sad to say it but here’s where we find most of our trouble with the ladies). What just happened?? That second impression that you get of someone either reinforces or alters the first impression.  This keeps adding on and on- you sit with them for a couple of hours for example…  you play cards with them… you Skype with them… you Facebook chat with them (and all the other social interactions we have)… all these things build on that initial impression you have, which rarely leaves you entirely. And just for the record, I’ve found many girls to be infinitely more attractive AFTER the initial meeting. Or maybe it’s just my brain finally pairing their personality and looks and recognizing something I’m attracted to within the initial impression.

The point is, I’m saying that the ensuing impressions you have of a person GREATLY shape the way you think about them. You get limited information the first time you meet someone- only a piece or two of the whole puzzle, only the tip of the iceberg… I like the puzzle metaphor better because only after you see the rest of them do you “figure” someone out, really start to understand them. When I first met Ryan, I thought he was charismatically weird- he’s not afraid to admit it, I’m not afraid to say it, so everyone’s happy. =P He’s a really cool and outgoing guy, and isn’t afraid to give you a solid first impression, which is what I had of him after the first day. But then I did all this crazy stuff with him- sat through some long ceremonies, played “wheel of fortune” at our dining table, breakdanced, had a flute/beatbox performance, talked about girls (we’re guys give us a break), climbed 900 meters up a mountain, stayed up until 3am freaking out and hunting cockroaches the night BEFORE we climbed the mountain, and all the other stuff I mentioned earlier. I’ve had the honor of learning a ton from him- turtling, bye bye bye, beatbox, and enduring more falsetto than a normal human being should. Kidding, kidding… becoming aware of his blog was the major altering impression I had of him tonight. It’s all related- the way he writes is the way he thinks is the way he acts. And tadaaa! In my mind I can trace all of it back to my initial impression of him, and how it all fits together now. It really are the following interactions that define and characterize what I think of Ryan now. Yeah, he’s still weird. But in the best way possible.

It’s the rest of you that have to judge me now for what I’ve written. My part here is done, but I’m hoping we’ll get to spend more time experiencing each other’s company in the future. As for tonight though, I’m finished. Cheers and happy thoughts!

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