Jun 14, 2011

First Encounters: What If?

Flickr: digitalbob8
Over the weekend while running some errands I was listening to NPR and heard a couple of stories that started me thinking/laughing/wondering (the podcast is at the bottom of this post.)

The episode focused on FIRST ENCOUNTERS of every sort--first kiss, first time meeting a foreigner, first time hearing. As human beings we are constantly bombarded by information. What happens in our brains when we see something or someone for the first time?

The simple answer: we categorize. We instantly compare what we are seeing for the first time to the stored information in our brains, trying to make sense of it. This instantaneous process sometimes leads us to jump to conclusions about what we are seeing. Sometimes we label things or people incorrectly. Much of the time there is no malicious intent--we are simply trying to make sense of the world around us. There is a problem, however, if we don't stop to check ourselves--to see if our brain's instantaneous classification system did a good job. There is a problem if we allow our brains to "judge a book by its cover."

Think about all the things that describe who you are. List them.

How many of those qualities are things that you can physically see in less than a second?

Think about the things that people see when they look at you.

How many of those things accurately describe who you are inside?

(If looking at yourself is too hard, choose someone you love--your child, for example, and list the qualities that make them who they are.)

The point is, that in the extremely short time it takes our brains to process information, we are making judgments about what we see. It is natural. It is necessary in order for us to sort out the endless stream of information we are exposed to. But our brains are not always seeing the full picture.

Wouldn't it be interesting if our brains could see deeper than the surface? Maybe there wouldn't be so much hurtful judgment of each other for skin color, body shape, hair type, or other physical differences. What if we could see the essence of each other? What if we didn't just settle on our brain's categorization and went past that first encounter?


  1. Very interesting!! I do find I "categorize" people sometimes and have to take a step back.

  2. We all do it! Glad you remember to take that step back :) Thanks for commenting!

  3. We all do it! Glad you remember to take that step back :) Thanks for commenting!

  4. I hate to say it, but it's true. It's our eye-sight that leads us, right? I wonder how different we'd be as humans if sight weren't our leading sense. What if we picked up on brain waves instead, the aura we emit? Bet the world would be a different place, because we'd be able to register "intent," instead of physical characteristics, as a means of "categorization."

    Love this post. I'll have to listen to the podcast when I get back from work, today!

    I've been meaning to tweet ya back about Sherman Alexie's article. Awesome post. I feel a Sherman Alexie reading binge coming on. Thank you for sharing it. I've not been on Twitter so much the last week. But I'm hopping on, now.

    Hope you're enjoying your reading time! : D

  5. I hope you get the chance to listen to the podcast. The segment that really got me thinking was about a man who was born deaf but got cochlear implants. He describes his first encounter with sound and it was an amazing story!

    I'm glad you had time to read the Sherman Alexie article. It was so awesome! I already really liked him and loved how my students responded to his book. The article just made me like him more.

  6. Jen, I've been meaning to listen to this since you posted it. I'm glad I finally came back to listen to it. Talk about an impactful piece. I was all over the map with my emotions listening to it, between the young man's first time hearing, the "Puker-facer-ator," the Sam-Umal-Mahkmed story, and ET, I felt awe, sadness, wonder and humor. Very effective at getting the listener to really "think" about perceptions and preconceptions in first encounters. Thank you for sharing this. ; )

  7. I'm glad you had the chance to listen to the podcast, Ezzy. It really express a lot of emotions and thought! 


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