Judging Carefully

I took a computer science class a while back which involved some amount of audience participation. Naturally a few people dominated. The most conspicuous was a guy in pastel shorts and twice-conditioned hair who would always make comments like “that doesn’t work in the edge case.” He was clearly bright. And he clearly knew it. I thought he was a douche-bag.

At the end of the semester, we ended up on the T together to the airport. We formally introduced ourselves. Referring to our mutual class, he said “Not the best social scene. I probably sounded like an asshole.” I made some non-committal noise in response. But I appreciate self-awareness, and right then and there, I liked him a lot more.

The moment we meet people, we make instant judgements of their character, appearance, and coolness. This is neither avoidable nor undesirable, so long as we recognize that we need not stick to our initial judgements. It is acceptable, indeed expected, that your perception of a person evolve as you get to know him better. That he seemed like an asshole in the beginning doesn’t mean he actually is one; it also doesn’t obligate you to forever think so.

Don’t feel constrained by the past in your pursuit of consistency. Too many people, for fear of being seen as hypocritical or gullible, overcompensate by refusing to change their minds even after all evidence has pointed in a different direction. They think this demonstrates principle. In fact it demonstrates immaturity. So you will feel somewhat sheepish if you end up dating a guy you spent six months railing about. But that’s more a lesson on keeping your mouth shut than a referendum on taste. Your crime was not “judging too quickly,” it was being foolish enough to believe that your opinions were so immutable as to deserve public declaration the moment they popped into your head.

Among my close friends are many whose first impressions were along the lines of “uptight,” “pretentious,” and “Berlusconi!” In the intervening years, they haven’t become any less pretentious or uptight, and they may well have become more sleazy. But they’ve also impressed me with their respective talents: they do serious math; they speak fluent Russian; we have animated conversations. So if in their spare time, they want to go around in bow ties and hand out business cards, I’m willing to overlook that.

Conversely are those we like in the beginning, but later have to reconsider. There’s the guy I knew sophomore year who wrote the best poetry, until one day I realized he had plagiarized it all from six different sources, including “Grey’s Anatomy.”

And there’s me. We meet – I seem like such a nice girl. I have long hair, I play the piano, I make great sandwiches. Then I go and turn out a conservative.