We’ve spent the past few months talking about rapid cognition, first impressions, and the dangers – and benefits – they can uncover. One area of Gladwell’s book that really spoke to me was in the final chapter, the section entitled “Small Miracles.”
Gladwell writes, “We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility. Taking our powers of rapid cognition seriously means we have to acknowledge the subtle influences that can alter or undermine or bias the products of our unconscious,” (252). The emphasis placed on that passage is mine.
To piggy-back on what Professor Whittingham wrote about regarding racial bias, I want to talk about the subtle influences that have biased me, and have you consider some of the influences that have biased you. I want to go beyond looking at the societal pressures that have influenced us – race, class, gender, etc. – because they are discussed fairly frequently. I want to reflect that view inward, to you individually.
An example: I have always said that I am not good at math. No big surprise, there – I DO teach English, after all. But that perceived math deficiency was something I struggled with for most of my life. Then one day, I went to an interview where I had to take a math test. I dreaded every minute of that exam. During the actual conversation portion of the interview, the Human Resources Director asked, “So, what is your greatest weakness?” The answer was easy. I said immediately, “Math. I’m terrible at math.” She looked confused and I soon discovered why. I had scored a 99% on the math test. I was stunned!
It’s been an experience that has stuck with me for years, but after reading Blink, it became clear to me why I thought the way I did. I had relied on my first impressions of myself. I had to have math tutors all through middle school; I was placed in remedial math classes in high school. I had been “trained” to think I was bad at it – I undermined myself for decades because someone once said to me, “You’re not good at math.”
Take a moment now to turn your consideration inward. What is your first impression of YOU? What experiences (both internal and external) have given you the impression you have of yourself? How accurately do you see yourself?