Six Squares

Walking into a night class with a friend. We were both seniors in college at the time, and this was the first day of a new semester. We'd been told the professor was a real bitch.

"Take a seat. Be QUIET. Take a seat. Be QUIET. Take a SEAT. BE quiet."

She lived up to her reputation with a simple five word greeting as we arrived at our deadly silent classroom. Wow. "Oh this prof's a real sweetheart" I thought while my friend and I sat down.

Most of the seats were already taken by what appeared to be a shellshocked class, so we ended up sitting on opposite sides of the room. As each student walked through the door, the seated students gave a look that said "Turn back! Turrrn BAAACK!!! Too late - it's doom... DOOOOM!!!!"

At the click of 6pm, the professor wrote her name on the blackboard, then turned around and began.

"Take out a full size sheet of paper and fold it into thirds. What are you waiting for? DO it! ...now, take your folded sheet of paper and fold it in half width-wise. Now, unfold it and use those creases to tear your sheet of paper into six relatively equal squares."

"Write your name on one square and pin it to yourself somehow. This is your name tag. What's taking you so long? Do it!"

"Now, stand up and - without saying a word - approach someone you don't know. Write the person's name on one of your five remaining squares and write your opinion of this person below it. Be honest - and do NOT sign it or write your name on it. Keep it. When you're done, find another person and repeat the exercise until you've written down your opinion of five strangers. At that point, sit down. OK? Go."

In complete silence, the entire class stood and paired up.

I sheepishly walked up to an oriental looking guy and gave him a "well I guess we should do this" look. He shrugged, and we started jotting notes about each other. I KNEW he was going to review me poorly... I could feel it. I had been passive about approaching him.

I looked the next person in the eye and gestured my way, then pointing at one of my paper squares. "Ah-ha..." I thought. "You've got no choice but to give me a positive review!" ...as if it mattered.

When we were all finished, the professor collected the notes [oh shit!] and stacked them on her desk.

"I'll be giving you your reviews on your way out. Behold, the power of a first impression."

It was dark by the time my friend and I left that night class. He kept muttering and cursing while reading what other students had written about him. "Fuck you! Fuck this! Like you knowanything..."

"I think that's the point" I said.

"But they're wrong... these people don't know a damn thing about me. Cheerleader chick with loopy handwriting called me a loser."

"Don't you get it? Right or wrong - that's the first impression you gave her. Sure, you're a great guy - but you when you give a bad first impression, why do you expect anybody to stick around and get to know you? Why bother."

Of the five reviews I'd received, four spoke very highly of me. Only one gave a less than flattering review - and I have no doubts it was the first student I walked up to. I earned a poor review - I didn't give a good first impression.

I'm not saying I'm a master of such things - but I try.

Firm handshakes matter.
Looking someone in the eyes matters.
A smile matters.

...and that's just a FIRST impression. What about the impressions that last?

I found myself pondering these things when I stumbled onto the english version of the al Jazeera website. Or the BBC News website for that matter.

When the rest of the world views something in such contrast with us in the U.S. - or us in the west - I can't help but wonder if we have learned nothing in this emerging global community we're a part of.

The opinions of others matter. Understanding where those opinions come from matters even more.

Sometimes they're wrong - but sometimes they're right. Sad that so many of us don't know the difference...


::::: | Thursday, Sep 16 2004 at 5:15 PM
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smokey the grouch said:

So if perception is reality, who's perception do we trust? Our own or someone else's?

::::: | September 17, 2004 4:27 PM

Me! said:

Well, when the majority seem to think differently, it's a good time to consider the validity of their perspective, no?

::::: | September 17, 2004 6:54 PM

(won't be published)


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