Day 48: First impressions are crucial in life.

“Today hand this [page, which contains space for writing] to a stranger and find out what impression you made.”

I didn’t do it.

When my wife reads this, she will complain about my non-doing, because she always complains when I ignore the Book’s admonitions to interact with strangers. Well, wife, tough shit. (I love you anyway, sweetheart.)

I completely agree that first impressions are important – and occasionally crucial – but only sometimes. The first day of class is important, sure, especially if you’re teaching; meeting your future in-laws for the first time, definitely; a job interview, probably. But there are also a whole lot of people who are just “extras” in your life (people at the grocery store, people on the train, &c – people for whom you are also an “extra”), and the impressions you make on them don’t really matter – and they’re not a knowable quantity, anyway, even if they were important.

A modified version of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is at work here. If I’m at a Starbucks, say, behaving in the aloof and scornful manner that is my wont, the baristas and other patrons are going to form some sort of opinion about me (though they’ll probably also forget me within minutes) – but that opinion would be different from the one that they’d form if I approached one or more of them and asked them to fill out a brief survey describing the “first impression” I made. In the first case, I’m just an asshole; in the second, I’m a weird guy who tries to read other people’s diaries.

If I attempt to find out what impression I create on strangers, then I will create a different impression than I normally would. This exercise doesn’t actually tell me anything about what strangers think of me, only what strangers think of people who ask for unsolicited opinions about themselves – that is, that they’re odd, and maybe vaguely dangerous.

And while I’m certainly odd – and vaguely dangerous, in my better moments – I’m not going to go out of my way to alert total strangers to that fact, which is why I project “aloof, scornful, and unapproachable.” It’s worked for me so far.


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