A young acquaintance of mine says that her interactions with the rest of human society can be roughly split into three disproportionate categories. First of all, there are about ten per cent of the people she meets that she takes an instant liking to. These are “her kind of people”–individuals who share similar values, passions, temperament, outlook and interests. From this pool of humanity will come all of her close friends and lovers. A second group of individuals consists of another ten per cent of humanity whom are relegated to the category of people that she has an almost instant and visceral antagonism towards. These are the people whose attitudes, opinions and characteristics will forever be pushing her buttons and causing the corners of her mouth to shape themselves into a sneer of contempt. The final group of individuals consists of the remaining eighty per cent of humanity. These are the people who she comes into contact with that invoke a neutral response (neither a strong positive nor a strong negative reaction). She may not form strong and lasting relationships with them but, for the most part, she is able to “work and play well” with them. Furthermore, she insists with all of the confidence of the young, she can tell within a matter of minutes of meeting a new person which of these categories he or she will slot into.
I remember a time in my life when I had similarly staunch convictions about the people that surrounded me. From childhood onwards, I considered myself to be a swift and accurate judge of character and believed strongly in the accuracy of my first impressions.
At a former job, I worked with a man whom I took a quick disliking to. He was, it seemed to me, a smart-alecky and conceited sort of individual. He appeared to be incapable of taking anything seriously and was one of those people you just know is ready to make snide comments about you behind your back.
Because his roommate was one of my closest friends, we all wound up spending time together at a lot of the same bars and parties. As far as my shallow twenty-five year old self was concerned, he had weird taste in music, a bad haircut, and a seemingly endless collection of the ugliest ties and Hawaiian-style short sleeve shirts on the planet. On the plus side, though, he could cook, he loved to dance as much as myself, and we shared a passion for the music of Sly and the Family Stone, the film A Christmas Story (Clark, 1983), and Roald Dahl’s children’s novel James and the Giant Peach (1961). On the basis of this shaky foundation, we began to build a lasting and true friendship that eventually morphed into a romantic relationship and finally a marriage that is well into its fifteenth year. As it turned out, I have rarely, if ever, heard him make a snide or unkind comment about anybody.
Besides my ability to make accurate snap judgments about people, I have changed my mind about a great many other things over the years. Although my core values have remained relatively constant, I have shifted my ideas and perspectives in numerous areas of thought and taste, including food, music and politics. I’m hoping that it is a sign of slowly gathering wisdom that I am now able to admit when I am wrong about something (an occurrence that truly happens on a daily basis), without having it negatively affect my feelings about myself. I am no longer so tied to my opinions and judgments that they define who I am. I no longer feel incompetent or that I am losing face when I admit to making a mistake or changing my mind.
After all, Stephen Hawking, arguably our most revered living physicist, recently reversed his theory with respect to the capacity of matter to reemerge from inside a black hole. This reversal, of course, is consistent with the whole history and process of science, which is based on the perpetual discarding and realigning of ideas and theories as information comes to light. If only this open-mindedness were as commonplace in politics, religion, and our everyday lives, things might run a whole lot more smoothly.
Clark,B. (Director) (1983). A Christmas Story (Film). Warner Studios.
Dahl, R. (1961). James and the Giant Peach. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.