The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

Life With Leo

More than a first impression

Fifteen-year-old me dreaded the moment of arriving at music camp, but it finally came. I dragged my boxy suitcase into the cabin that reeked of wood mixed with old furniture. My slides caught on the door as I awkwardly stumbled into the cabin. I then just as awkwardly introduced myself, sputtering a painful, “Hi, uhhh.” Avoiding eye contact, I begrudgingly announced, “I’m Leo.” The eight other kids in the cabin had already arrived, and they stared at me like little puppies looking at their owner for a treat.

The boys eventually returned the favor, informing me their names were Carter, Will, and Knox. As they slowly went around, I made assumptions based on clothing, speech, vibe, and basically anything I could gather. My brain jumped from one kid to the next, forming ruthless and unfounded opinions at every turn.

Carter: seems cool with his swaggy sunglasses and cool fit but he probably smokes an obscene amount of weed. Will is such a nerd, he definitely practices over two hours a day, ain’t no way I’m gonna be friends with him. If I thought Will practiced a lot, Knox definitely does not have a social life, he’s probably too busy practicing or something—I don’t vibe with him.

After the brief exchanging of names, with me making snarky and quite frankly, nasty assumptions about people based on first impressions, the supposed weirdos helped me set up and unpack.

As the camp went on, I got to know everyone on a more personal level. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been shocked they proved my first impressions wrong. Carter wasn’t a stoner. Will was not practicing all the time. And Knox has a social life, one which I am now a part of, as we are close friends.

Looking back on this moment with a different lens and a couple years of experience under my belt, a brain-consuming question pops into my consciousness: Why do we make first impressions, and are they necessarily bad?

Surprisingly, first impressions are hard-wired into our brains. I actually just learned this, but making snap opinions about others is necessary for human survival; we rely on this innate need to determine if a stranger is a threat. As humans, this instinct has allowed us to survive since the dawn of time and continues to allow us to socially advance.

Okay, so the concept of creating these judgments is at least somewhat warranted due to its purpose to ensure human survival. But can we possibly harness this human quality for good while refusing to let it create false perceptions of certain individuals?

In the situation I described above, I’d say that these first impressions I had of Carter, Will, and Knox did not prevent a friendship from forming. I like to attribute this to the fact that I kept an open mind and actually tried to get to know them better. Unfortunately, I can’t say I do the same with every person I meet.

Each spring and fall at the High Mountain Institute (HMI) a semester away school based in the Rockies, fifty students descend on Leadville, Colorado. They eat, sleep, and study together, and four months later, they all return to their sending schools. Last fall, I did just that. While there, I was on a 16-day backpacking trip with a girl named Esme. There is one way in which I can describe Esme: weird, but in the best way possible. She would randomly blurt out words, short phrases, or whatever would pop into her quirky mind.

However, I did not always see her in a positive light. Upon first meeting her, I thought Esme was an annoying little brat who did not know how to shut up (I know… it was very harsh of me, but it was how I actually felt). I let my first impression of her stick; I was in the backcountry with her for 16 days, and I showed her unwarranted animosity the entire time. Some of my negative emotions were reciprocated, resulting in an uncomfortable experience for both of us.

After returning to the HMI campus, it quickly became clear that everyone loved Esme, leaving me as the sole individual who had a strained relationship with her. One day, she pulled me aside and asked, “Leo, why have you been so bad toward me?”

I stood there, speechless. Eventually, I responded honestly, claiming, “I never understood you as a person.” The rest of the people at the program understood her, while I didn’t even try.

I never took the time to even try to get past that first impression, and as a result, I did not create the memories I could have on that first trip.

However, while poor first impressions are inevitable—sometimes we simply cannot control the heinous and sometimes vulgar dialogue of our teenage brains—we must move past them by continuing to interact, or at least talking with that person to try and better understand them. And, if after many interactions you still harbor a negative viewpoint of that person, you’ll know you at least tried to get to know them.

At the end of the day, one’s perceptions and ideas of others are constantly evolving and shifting, so maybe down the road you’ll get along with them. Harness your snap judgments, don’t let them dictate all future interactions, and try to view your relationships with an open mind.

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