Existential Psychology

Give People Another Chance

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You can use some psychological ideas to make yourself a gentler, more forgiving person in how your characterize and regard the people you know. We always hear the expression ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’, and the sad part is that for most of us this holds true, both in the way we view others and the way they view us. How idiotic that one tiny slice of time, one data point amongst countless, is used as the sole criteria for how to think about someone and the resulting way we behave towards them.

The cognitive bias that is probably to blame is called consistency. This is where we seek to align our current thoughts and actions with a past decision we have taken. Most of the time consistency is a good thing. It makes us trustworthy in the eyes of others, and in our evolutionary past, where working together in groups on a moment by moment basis was essential for survival, consistency was a favorable trait for natural selection.

But the consistency bias can work against us in the way we form our perceptions of others, because unconsciously we will try to make future encounters align with the perceptions we already have, discarding or ignoring information that contradicts these perceptions and narrowly focusing on the information that reinforces them, thereby achieving psychological equilibrium ourselves by making our perceptions align with the decision we have already made regarding them.

This is one of the reasons that people can have such a hard time breaking out of their reputations and easily fall back into old habits. Those around them unconsciously work to block anything that feels new or foreign, keeping them locked into the role that was carved out for them, with or without their approval.

All of us have infinite data points representing different thoughts and behaviors that could be used to construct a plausible narrative about us, winnowing us down to a single label and ignoring the rich tapestry of our lives. Remembering this about ourselves can help us accept that there are probably many sides to the people we have judged too, and if we just accept this truth we will see examples during encounters that we would have either ignored or blocked before.

It’s liberating not confining to realize that your perceptions about someone probably aren’t telling the whole story. If you can accept the wrong perceptions you have towards others you’ll understand the wrong perceptions others have had towards you and they won’ bug you as much. You’ll be a kinder, more forgiving person who looks for and sees good qualities in people even if their reputations or your first impression say otherwise, and you’ll rise above a way of seeing the world determined by your unconscious instincts rather than your human choice.