We say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we do. Sometimes we find that we were wrong in our assessment of other people, places and things, but we always use that first impression as a guide. Often we can’t explain why we feel that way about our encounters; we just feel an affinity. Certain feelings are triggered, and we act on the feelings.
On occasion, these reactions are pretty strong. “I haven’t been able to stand him from the first moment I laid eyes on him.” “I walked into that room, and I just felt at home.” “When I looked around me, I suddenly felt at peace.” In those situations, lasting relationships may develop. We may continue to visit that perfect, peaceful place. We may make new friends. Perhaps that person we couldn’t stand is really a nice guy, but he’ll have an uphill struggle to prove it — or maybe we’ll change our minds after watching him for a while. Nonetheless, first impressions are a powerful influence on our attitude and trust.
Sometimes we just don’t know how to deal with people. That can be especially true of first encounters. It is important to always remember that people respond to how we make them feel. If we seem to feel superior to them, that will most likely trigger anger. If our approach is parental, that’s sure to trigger old stuff. If we fail to smile, they will sense our disapproval — even if it’s only in their heads. If we seem indifferent, they will feel rejected.
Intentions speak louder than words. If it is truly our intent to welcome folks, they will feel welcome. If we think well of them until they prove otherwise, if we listen to them with compassion (wishing others well) they will feel safe. If we meet them with a smile, they will feel accepted. If we treat them with respect and compassion, they will believe they have value.
We all leave first impressions, individually and in our fellowships. We’re affected by the people, the ambiance, the sharing (Is it hard-core or loving?), the attitude of the greeter at the door, and so on. Creating a good first impression is critical, especially dealing with newcomers.
We develop the ability to put others at ease by becoming at ease with ourselves. If we learn to be mindful of the ways we think of ourselves and can begin to become aware of our own feelings, we can be more mindful of the ways in which we relate to others. Meditation can help us with that. It isn’t necessary to have wise words; all we need is to be ourselves — to be real.