The current expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression like all aphorisms, (See blog #11) is of little value and may moreover be rather misleading. Its basic premise is that one is in control of someone else’s perception. The truth is that a first impression is solely within the psyche of the other person over which you have very little control. That perception can either relatively objective or unfortunately as more often is the case, founded on accumulated stereotypes, projection or even, neurosis. It would, in any event, appear that the avowed ability to properly evaluate another person for any purpose, at the first contact is an egotistical and presumptuous fantasy.

One is entitled to be evaluated, or judged, on at least a modicum of interactive experience, in a rational manner and not be prejudged.

Reliance upon recollected characteristics of others, with whom one has had past experience, is a   thoughtless and lazy criterion for evaluation for any purpose, professional or social.  It is only too often the practice to assign a populist label to the other person (often without fair basis) and thereafter, lacking any knowledge, and without rational inquiry, deduce wide-sweeping conclusions concerning him. Reflexive judgment would seem to trump rational and fair inquiry; labeling or tagging is easier.

It may be interesting that, while this pernicious practice is not new, such labels (used to unfairly and reductively judge others) have themselves evolved, Darwin style to suit the changing contexts in which society found itself. (See blog#22).

For example in the 19th Century the labels, “liberal” and “conservative,” had meanings which were the polar opposite of today’s use.  In the days of Adam Smith, “liberal” meant free of the influence of the King, the Church and Government in general. The liberal believed that commerce was to be governed by the natural law of the market; self -reliance of the individual was paramount {Classical Liberalism}. During the same period in history, the label or tag “conservative” was applied to those who believed in the authority of the King, State and Church viz., rule by a central, hierarchical authority.

In today’s parlance, the “liberal” is understood to believe that the Government has a legitimate role in regulating commerce and an obligation to assist the needy (some of which are casualties of market forces). The current label, “conservative” is assigned to one who like the Classical Liberalism of Adam Smith, wants a “hands off” policy on the part of Government and with regard to social assistance to the poor. {A modern-day example of a Classical Liberal is the novelist Ayn Rand}.

Putting the evolution of specific labels aside, regardless of era, the evaluation or judgment of individuals based upon convenient labels is not only unjust, inaccurate and reductive, but makes for a fractious and contentious society where the well-intentioned exchange of varying ideas, so necessary to a democratic society, in the solution of problems is thwarted. {See blog#21,” Civic Amity, A Requiem”}

In ancient Hebrew the word, “Shibboleth” (meaning corn, also flood) was utilized by one warring State to identify the enemy since the citizens of the enemy could not pronounce the “sh” sound in the word (shades of Gulliver’s Travels). In more modern times, the slang word,” lollapalooza” was used to identify Japanese spies who could not pronounce it. Happily there are no present day “shibboleth” tests we do however still have tags, unfounded assumptions and ignorant and lazy labeling. The myopia, ignorance which typify baseless and divisive labels and the resulting judgments based upon stereotypes, is unfair, irrational and, by the way very, un-American.

In a just society, superficial “first impressions” should not be determinative and should be followed up and supplemented by real data.


Published by


Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s