“The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you”…Carl Jung
No matter where you go, after brief introductions people always ask, “What do you do?’ What they’re really asking is, “Who are you?” because we usually categorize people we meet according to their occupation. It’s just one of the processes we use to quickly form an impression of other people. According to researchers, we have between 7 to 10 seconds to make an impression. Immediately upon meeting someone we start to evaluate whether this is someone we want to learn more about or to avoid and our brain is making thousands of computations at lightning speed. Is there value in forming an impression of someone so quickly and with minimal information? Sure, because we live busy lives and it gives us a shortcut to make decisions based on what’s going on in our lives at that moment so we can accomplish what we need to, besides you can’t get to know everyone. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing; it’s simply a way to navigate an increasingly complex and fast moving world.
Obviously, how we view people we just met is a very subjective process. For example, if someone you were introduced to at a community event said he was a doctor and the person next to them said he was a house painter, you would have much different impressions of them because we frequently “see” people as the roles they perform in society. Visual cues play a significant part as well.For example, if you’re dressed in a professional-looking suit, shoes shined and well groomed, those perceiving you are more likely to behave differently than with someone dressed casual, maybe unshaven and with a visible tattoo peeking out from under their shirtsleeves. However, where we meet people is important in context to our impressions of them. Meeting the doctor and house painter at a social event gives us a different point of view than meeting them in their professional setting where their roles better meet our expectations.
And remember what your mother always said about how well you present yourself from the get-go is as important as being there? Good old mom. Turns out she was right. That’s why you probably have a “nice” outfit in your closet for those special occasions like weddings, going to church, applying for a job or impressing that certain person when you go out to dinner and a movie for that first date.
Age also plays a big role in how you view someone. If you’re past the age of 50, you might think that the opinion or wisdom of a much younger person is not as valuable as one of your peers from “back in the day”. Or, if you’re in your twenties or thirties, you might downplay an older person’s opinion as “geezer” talk. It’s yet another quick decision factor you make based on what you think.
Who you are in someone else’s mind can be fraught with many criteria that are totally beyond your control such as ethnicity, religion, language, education, where you were born, your name or which side of town you live on. Stereotyping often hinders the true connection people can have because we are creatures of our environment and how we are taught to see the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t define who you are by your attitude, your openness to new people and ideas, your willingness to risk and your ability to not let anyone box you in other than being your true self; that always wins with people you decide that matter to you. When you engage the world with confidence and understanding, you define who you are and not the other way around. So who are you?
(Image from www.sarahcunningham.org)