First Impression

First Impression


Cognitive Dissonance


"You never get a second chance to make a first impression!"

 The earliest attribution for this quote is a 1966 advertising slogan in an ad for Botany Suits.


We have a new neighbor…which is a big deal around here, since we have so few neighbors to begin with. As we like to say, we live at the end of a dirt road off of a dirt road off of a paved road out in the middle of nowhere. Our two dirt roads, each a mile long, are home to six houses, three of which are not presently occupied. Make that two, now that we have new neighbors.

Actually they have not moved in yet, having closed the purchase earlier this past week. They told the realtor there was much to do to the place before they moved in. While I am pleased the house will once again be a home to someone, rather than just another vacant box, I am also a little sad with the prospect. For the last 2½ years I have been the resident caretaker of the house and land and have come to know it well inside and out.

In particular the land itself, which at times spoke so strongly to me. I now understand why the previous owner was always smiling and light hearted when tending to, and caring for, his beloved acreage. I have that same feeling when tending to mine. But each lot, area really for the feeling often extends within and beyond the artificial man-made boundaries, has its own personality and peculiarities.

While it was a burden at times to cut the nearly two acres of grass (weeds really) every two weeks, I enjoyed the time outdoors. And the property has such good vibrations; the previous owners loved their home and land and I got to know them reasonably well before they passed away. They were good people, and while caring for the property in their absence I have felt a sense of duty instilling good karma into the place in anticipation of the arrival of new owners.

Nearly four years ago Mrs. Cog and I, child unit in tow, were the new neighbors on the mountain. Damn Yankees to the bone, we were eyed with some suspicion by the community as we settled in to carve out our new life. But the nearest neighbor down the road turned out to be transplants like us, having blazed the trail 20 years earlier. Now that they are gone, we have gratefully accepted our duties as guardians of the mountain and unofficial welcoming committee.

The day before the new owners closed on the house, they were down at the property conducting their final walk through. Mrs. Cog and I saw them poking around the sheds as we drove by and stopped to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood. The last two plus years of vacancy has elicited some lively discussion between us about the type of neighbors we would prefer to buy the place.

Naturally there is always a wide divergence between what we want and what we get, and we both knew this while we discussed possibilities. But one can always dream. Of utmost importance to us was the hope they be like minded with regard to general self sustainability coupled with a strong suspicion of anything that smells of statism and authoritarianism.

Frankly speaking, we fully understand neighbors are like in-laws. They come with the package selected, are not always liked or likeable and can, and often do, change and expand, with parts moving in and out of our lives as circumstances (or happenstance) dictates.

We stopped and talked for a few minutes, long enough to shake hands and exchange first names. I explained to him I was the one who had taken care of the property for several years and offered to walk the land with him to point out hidden stumps, holes and whatnot. Mrs. Cog also briefly engaged with her counterpart, then we said our goodbyes and left to begin our day of errands.

Naturally, once inside our vehicle and down the road a piece we started comparing our first impressions to our hopes and expectations. Ultimately those are private conversations and will not be revealed here or anywhere else for that matter. But we both agreed that regardless of our first impressions, good, bad or indifferent, the reality that reveals itself over time will most likely diverge significantly from our initial glimpse.

After a bit I got to pondering first impressions and our need to categorize and classify everything. We so desperately need to fit whatever we see, hear and feel into our own personal narrative of how the world works and our place within it. Because of our innate desire to herd, we all tend to seek out like minded individuals, those we can relate to and those who can relate to us.

I often forget how unlike I am compared to many other grass grazers. In some respects I am intensely private, in other regards quite outgoing, gregarious and personable. I’m that guy in front of you at the checkout line who turns around and starts talking to you like we’ve know each other all our lives.

Some find my forward approach refreshing and immediately engage like long lost spirits finally reunited. Others are put off by my ‘rude’ behavior and will quickly signal, often via body language with a few words as punctuation, that the conversation has ended before it even got started.

I have found nearly all of us are desperate to be ‘seen’, to be acknowledged as someone special, important, significant and so much more than just another sardine in the sea. This need to be seen, to be unique while being just like everyone else in the herd, is nearly universal and the principle variance amongst us is how we deal, or not, with this instinctual yearning.

Ultimately the vast majority of us are little more than copy cats, posers and wannabes, rarely looking within to ‘discover’ ourselves for fear of uncovering decades of garbage buried just beneath the surface. Walking talking neurotic vessels, we stumble and bumble through life in our headlong rush to escape ourselves and those people, places and things that might expose us, in part or in whole, to our selves.

We are each born into this reality uniquely different in every possible way. In spite of this, we then spend the rest of our lives trying to be just like everyone else while claiming to retain our unique attributes. What a waste of the only precious, and dwindling, common commodity we truly do share…time.

Others, including a smattering of artists and creative individuals, push fear aside and allow/enable their inner ingenuity and imagination to well up to the surface. The product of their inspirational release is usually invigorating and confusing at the same time. Essentially creativity is the personal expression of our ‘self’ as seen through our interpretation of our inner exploration.

This is me as I perceive me. See me.

To some degree or another, the facade we display to others, particularly strangers, is not the same facade we present to our relatives, friends, co-workers, even our life partners. We even have a special façade reserved just for our egoic self; you know, for when we believe we are alone with our self. Sadly this is not the case, for our ego is not our self, but in fact an agent provocateur and tyrant rolled into one domineering persona we willingly submit to.

Have you ever wondered why we rarely like pictures of ourselves, but seem to tolerate our mirrored visage reasonably well? In our mind’s eye, our reflection can be subtlety modified in real time with the slight cock of our head or the lifting of the chin to fit our favored view of our self. But the static picture is unmodified and fixed forever, therefore never reflecting how we (wish to) see ourselves and for others to see our egoic self.

We rarely show our true self because we rarely know ourselves well enough to show…even if we had the inclination to do so. Instead we carry a satchel full of masks carefully carved and painted to represent what we wish to be, and what we want others to believe we are. We conceal in order to deceive, ourselves first and foremost, and then everyone else.

Since we rarely, if ever, show our true self to others, particularly when meeting for the very first time, for better or worse, rarely is our first impression accurate, especially if we then go on to get better acquainted. Seldom do we let our mask slip enough to reveal all of our true self, including to our life partners. Haven’t you ever had a moment when you were ‘seeing’ something in your partner for the very first time?

Those are Freudian slips of the third kind.

Seen from this perspective, it’s easy to understand that our first impression is so much more about us than them. Since I am not projecting who I really am to those who I claim I am trying to ‘see’, and they are doing the same to me, any observations or conclusions I draw from a first meeting are more a reflection of my worldview psychology and not of their actual projected personality which is just as false as well.

Just as we can find inspiration wherever we look and in whatever we see, simply because we ‘see’ whatever we (want to) believe is real, so too will we translate the person’s façade through our worldview and not their intended deception. So we wind up with a double entendre of sorts, the facade they are projecting which they think is most agreeable to us and our interpretation of their interpretation of what’s most agreeable to us.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.

I suspect a sociologist will tell us this tendency to hide in plain sight, to shield our self from friend and foe, is a defensive technique we were well served to employ in the dog eat dog, fight or flight world we evolved from. And I suppose this makes sense if we are to believe the severely distorted written history of our past, which in turn cognitively programs our present as real.

But while this genetic conditioning may have enabled a person to survive long enough to reproduce, supposedly the primary reason we are all on this fertile Earth, it also serves to stifle creative expression and learning from others and our self.

I cannot over emphasize enough how little we actually communicate with our self. While we may believe we are thinking or speaking to our self, nearly always we are actually conversing with our egoic self, that false façade we have erected and continuously breathe life into to protect ourselves from our ‘self’, the true inner we.

This conceptual view of an alien vs. real self is so utterly foreign to us and our externally massaged worldview that it is, for the most part, rejected out of hand as nonsensical and ridiculous, the ramblings of a raving madman completely divorced from reality. Or simply someone enthralled, mesmerized really, by woo woo magic and alternative realities.

Fully gestated into a ‘real’ world formed and described exclusively by scientific facts provable only to its methodic self, the perfect description of a self reinforcing delusion, is it any wonder we are all mad as hatters and hiding from not only our inner insanity, but that of every other neurotic zombie?

This unnatural relationship with an alien self certainly explains our large inventory of masks, facades and personalities as well as our willingness to go along to get along. God forbid we were to break from the herd and examine our inner madness. What would we do once we arrived at the bottom of our inner rabbit hole?

All that would be left at that point would be our true self. A truly scary proposition to meet and greet that alien being, wouldn’t you say?

Hopefully we will make a good first impression.



Cognitive Dissonance

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