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Nice to Meet You

by Andrea Afra

Consider this scenario: Someone you know fairly well is talking about someone you don’t know so well, if at all. Whether it’s their colleague, relative, friend, or sweetheart, they are airing this person’s flaws and annoyances, yet without knowing the absentee and their take on the situation, common sense says you’re in no position to make a valid character judgement. Not only are you unfamiliar with the third party, you’re unsure of the true motives of the one making the disclosure, and how they really feel about the missing defendant. So when we first learn of an entity through someone else’s description, and we attempt to formulate our own opinion of them based on another’s view, we’re bound to be mistaken in any conclusion. We should be thoughtful of how we present an individual to another, even if we do have a rightful need to vent, and we should be wary of those who seem eager to instill us with a negative impression of another person, especially if, quite conveniently, they may never get to tell us their side of the story.

With this in mind, how many people are out there that already carry a mental effigy of us, whether we’ve only met briefly, or never? As it is, when we meet someone for the first time, our human instinct is to immediately begin sizing them up based on our initial impression of their physiology and demeanor. We talk to them and form more opinions based on how they speak, what they say, and their body language during their delivery, keeping in mind there’s a good chance our new acquaintance isn’t presenting us with their genuine nature. The qualities we glean in this primary encounter are processed by our internal laboratory, bisected and dissected, catalyzed and categorized. Yet even when meeting face to face, the results are contaminated by our own idiosyncrasies and prior experiences. In a word, by our ego. With myriad variables, yet lacking a detailed history of their own mannerisms and previous experiences, we’re really left with very little factual information to develop an opinion with any merit, yet that doesn’t stop us, now, does it? It also doesn’t stop others from running us through their own inner lab where we too are reduced to a byproduct made up more of the observer than the hapless subject. Now imagine how rare it must be to reach a fair verdict of someone you’ve only met briefly in the flesh, or never at all, when their particulars are delivered by a messenger whose intentions are a mystery. No one is who we think they are. It’s only long after the introductions have been made, when a healthy level of honesty and transparency is established, that one begins to truly know another.

The day may come when you are surprised by someone honest enough to tell you that you’re not who they thought you were. They admit it—they ran you through their lab and produced a shallow hypothesis based on insufficient data, undoubtedly skewed. But when they got to know you better, and you both let down your guard enough to warrant a retrial, the results were purer the next round. Time and truth reveals our imperfections, and when someone truly cares for us, our shadows and scars only add depth to the image of us they are developing.

“I didn’t know that about you.”

“You always seem so confident.”

“I thought you had it all.”

When we are forthright with each other, the shrouds that once divided us lose opacity, and when we are accepted by someone who has seen through our shroud, suddenly the opinions of those who have judged us without knowing us in this fuller dimension abate greatly in importance.

Alternately, the day may come when you find that what you took for transparency in someone was really a mask veneered with sincerity. We wake up one unassuming morning and a person we cared for no longer fits into our lives the way they once did, not in the days to come and not the days that have already passed. Memories together rise in vibrant color only to quickly fade into an uncertain gray upon their resurrection. Betrayal of this caliber forces an immediate evaluation of everyone within proximity of the soft underbelly of our trust. We line up these unknowing souls one by one and send them back through for a final acid test, and fewer and fewer seem to meet our standards. It’s not their flaws or shadows or even their actions against us that are judged, but their intentions. Friends err; enemies calculate.

It is said that with age we begin to care less for what others think when we know they aren’t concerned for our well being. While we are brought up being told that not everyone is nice, and that it’s impossible to please everyone at once, or essentially, ‘haters gonna hate,’  it takes time realize that time itself is too invaluable to expend on someone who isn’t rooting for your best interest. Protect yourself from those who would bolster their shaky positions in life at the expense of you and your dependents. They’ve no qualms to disparage another’s honor behind their back, while behind their own backs they clinch to that same person’s coattails. They seek to build a formidable league by recruiting others who they deem gullible enough to fall for their subversions, yet come to find they’re the mere bellwether of a capricious clique of shiftless sheep, loyal only to their own ambitions.

Who are the people in your life that you trust to allow you to be yourself without pretense, to call you out when you’re not meeting your own expectations for you or them? How many souls surround you who reach out to you as often as you reach out to them, in want of nothing more than your friendship? How many remain when the slightest breeze of opportunity blows the others in a different direction? Over the years, our final answer will likely dwindle to a single digit, and yet nothing is lost in letting go of those whose false benevolence is revealed in the preliminary trials of friendship. Instead, we recoup and redistribute the energy once willfully surrendered to people who depreciate the value of our most precious commodity: Time. For many people, their days are fully booked with work duties, tending to families, and basic needs like cooking, cleaning, and sleep. Maybe an hour is allotted to personal hobbies, furthering an education, exercise, or relaxing, here and there. Be grateful for each moment someone chisels out of their day for you, and in turn don’t give another breath to those who don’t feel the same gratitude.  After all of the demands of life are met at the end of the day, the spare change we have left in our time-bank becomes priceless, and who we spend it on becomes the one of the most important decisions life compels us to make.

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