let me explain. The question was posted by my friend Jess (Jess meet Liz, Liz meet Jess), and I thought it was too interesting to be confined to the chat on Facebook. I haven't posted any of my thoughts on this question yet, but I will. Thank you for taking part in the discussion - I couldn't think of a better person than you to think through this question with us.
Here is what I have said previously,
People can be shy, focused on themselves...and it's kind of scary when in about 10 minutes of your conversation they place you in a particular box where you are doomed to stay...Yuck...I've been in this situation...and I'm prone to putting people in such boxes that totally prevents me from seeing and bringing out the best in people. Does it make sense?
Now, to go on with my thoughts:
What if you see a person, and you just end up talking about weather...yet, at times, you do meet people, and they seem very interesting (kindred spirits) even initially.. but then your further communication can either reinforce your initial interest or prove otherwise.
At the same time, I'm thinking about the first impression that people have of us. There are friends that have known us for years. What if we go through some major transformation of our character and mature and grow, I wonder, if their opinion of us evolves, or does it always remain the same? It would require for this person to look at us through the eyes of love and confidence that we can change to change their opinion.
I have a friend whom I have known for a long time. I imagine, he has witnessed some fundamental changes in me, but I always have a nagging feeling that, no matter what, he place me in a particular character/personality/maturity box where I'm doomed to stay. It puts me in a very complicated situation where I can either just be myself and disregard being assigned to a particular box, or focus on trying to prove to that friend that I don't belong there, or admit that some people just don't bring the best in us. It's not that you are not supposed to live in peace with them, but it's just that...there are people who make it very easy for us to be ourselves...and we can be funny and courageous and smart and decisive, and they bring the best in us. And, there are people who, somehow, conform us to themselves. It's not only that their fellowship doesn't bring out the best in us, when we are around them we have to fight for the basic right to be ourselves.
For me it's been a blessing to grow in not presuming things about people. Instead of focusing on creating my immediate opinion of them, I'm trying to focus on the interaction and creating the most comfortable circumstances for them to open up.
So, I guess, it's the question of where your focus is...if your focus is on the other person, then you've done everything you could to meet the person in a very friendly and warm way. If you focus on your own performance, and how you come across, then you'll always try to live up to your initial "stage performance" around that person.
I'd like to mention here that meeting new people at church is the pain of all pains for me. I get embarrassed and awkward, and it takes every bit of my energy and perseverance to practice doing it in a friendly and heartfelt manner, which I hope, in return gives them more freedom to be themselves. Yet, I need to say that there is something in these situation that puts me off, and I'm hoping to work on a better attitude about it. It's the whole "over familiarity" thing. You meet someone for the first time, and that person totally violates your boundaries, and asks you to share you testimony while he is still talking to ten zillion other people, and tells you that it is really awesome of you to come to that church though he has forgotten to inquire of your name.
Wow, I sound like a bitter snob here. Niiiiiice!I guess, what I'm trying to say that if I end up seeing this person only once in my life for a couple of minutes, I'd like to do my best and give him 2 minutes of my undivided and sincere attention. I fail at it all the time though.
Of course, we are not perfect, and it takes "two to tango", but you can be responsible for your own actions and attitude and try to get better at them. In the last several months I've been severely convicted by Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" in the way I relate to people.
I think, at the end, the first impression does matter, and it takes more work to "un-do" it if your act around this person was weird. But, again, it's up to that person to give you grace and presume that you could be either shy or tired, or distracted or self-conscious and give you, two, another chance to get acquainted better.
It does seem though that quite often we end up in someone else's box and have clearly marked boxes for other as well, thus either missing out on the joy of getting to know another person or endlessly trying to prove to another person that we are not who we seemed to be on our first encounter.