Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What I learned yesterday

This morning over my coffee I had a realization. I realized that I often form an opinion of a person from one experience of them. And I realized that this is far too small a framework from which to assess any life.

I even know what this is called: Implicit Personality. This theory suggests that within 30 seconds or a minute of interaction with a person we react to them based on a central trait. From that one trait which we notice (probably based on our own issues) we create a composite of traits - we add traits. Then we begin to respond to them based on the traits we have assigned to them even if these are not real. We believe the traits we have imposed on them are who they are, even though we are the ones who have plopped these traits on top of them.

Let me try to put it into a picture. I meet a woman who is laughing and communicating well in a social setting. Ah I say to myself, I know that kind of person. She is confident, smart, and knows how to manage her life. Then, if I feel insecure about that kind of women I might say, "I can't be her friend." Or if I feel confident and want a friend like that I might say, "I must get to know her. She is so fabulous."

Well, who is she really? I only know one thing about her. She is being present to this group in a relaxed way. Everything else I have added to the one trait I see.

The trait we notice is usually something that triggers us. If I have body issues, and I encounter a person who is overweight or not well groomed I might begin to add traits of thoughtlessness, insincerity, wastefulness. If I meet a man with a pony tail and a bit of a strut (this is actually one of my trigger traits) I think - this man likes power. He wants to dominate. And so on. I add and add.

Now, I have sometimes justified this by saying to myself that I am intuitive (which I am) and I can read people (which I sometimes can.) But you know what? I have gotten things wrong, terribly wrong, more than once. I have laden a life with traits - and dare I say it - even repeated those traits to others, without any real knowledge of a person.

We are all complex. Every personality has layers and snarls and large pastures of beauty. I am going to slow down in my evaluation of what a person is. I am going to give second chances and third chances. I am going to suspend my judgment and be one who thinks, "maybe this is the best she can be today, I do not know what is happening in her life."

That's what I know for sure today.


Karen said...

Your post is brilliant. I have done the same thing - and been wrong - both in assumng the worst of someone and also giving a person positive traits they do not possess. Thanks for the food for thought.

Krissi said...

I have a personality that is designed to be intuitive and to read people, but currently, the overwhelming insecurities I have about myself so color that ability that I've learned I can't trust it. You know this about me, already, but I suppose it's good to voice it. I look forward to the day when I've worked through those issues enough that my intuition serves me well instead of selfishly.

Marilyn said...

That is a wise thought Krissi. Using our intuition as a servant of our life instead of in a selfish way. I guess the more I become honest about my own complicated self the more I am being open to others. I often think, I will give them the grace I need. We are all a mess and all beautiful. smile Thanks for a great blog this morning!