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What Would It Take?

September 11, 2013

When was the last time you looked into the eyes of the person checking you out of the grocery store?

Have you paused to smile at the person coming out of the door as you enter? What did you notice when your eyes locked with this other person?

Psychologists have researched how quickly we form first impressions upon meeting someone for the first time. Surprisingly, first impressions are formed in less than 7 seconds. Think about it, in less than 7 seconds, most of us can say “Hello” and before we have finished our next sentence, “My name is _______.” We have drawn several conclusions about the person we have just met. We have determined what we believe to be the obvious conclusions whether the person is male or female, rich or poor, educated or non-educated, if good or bad hygiene is practiced, if we agree with their choice of clothes style and hair color, and, most importantly - We have made a personal judgment about whether we think the person is a “good person” or a “not-so-good person.” If we know the person is a Christian, we may determine if we believe their observed behavior is appropriate Christian behavior.

And for every person you meet and for whom you form a first impression, that person is meeting you and gathering data about you and making similar judgments about you and what sort of person you are - a “good person” or a “not-so-good person.” Would the conclusions they draw about you be accurate?

Several years ago, I read a book entitled, “The Millionaire Next Door.” The premise of the book was that we draw certain conclusions about people based on the way they live, the way they dress, the size of their house, the type of car they drive and these conclusions may or may not be correct. We may assume someone living in a big house, driving an expensive car, and always wearing designer-name outfits is happy, money is not an issue, and she doesn't have a serious care in the world.

On the other hand, the truth may be her credit cards are maxxed out, most of her mail is bills, and she refuses to answer her phone for fear it will be a collection agency, and she cries herself to sleep most nights because she is unhappy and overwhelmed. This person’s truths and the conclusions one draws upon meeting her for the first time could not be further apart.

The Millionaire Next Door, “Annie” was just the “woman next door” and not really accepted within the neighborhood “In Group.” Annie didn't try to keep up with her neighbors. She drove the same economy car year in and year out. She seemed to be dressed in the same black pants. There was nothing seemingly special about Annie, every detail about her seemed average and almost nondescript.

One day a $700,000 anonymous donation was given to the local hospital to be used specifically for the development of a new Children’s Cancer Research area. A local church was in need of many building repairs. An anonymous donor gave $100,000 to the church to be used specifically for completing these building repairs. At the grocery store, a young woman was counting her coupons and her change to pay for her cart of baby food, diapers, and canned soup. A stranger approached and smiled at the young woman, and quietly handed the cashier money to cover the groceries. The young woman quietly said, “Thank you” and left the store, never knowing who the woman was that helped her to pay for her groceries.

No one knew “Annie” was the “Millionaire Next Door” and was the anonymous giver for the hospital’s new wing, the church building repairs, and the young woman’s groceries. The very average first impression formed upon meeting Annie couldn’t be farther from her truth.

While most of us cannot be described as the “Millionaire Next Door,” we all have opportunities to help others many times during the course of our day. Because our minds are busy and moving from one situation to another, we may miss these simple opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life. We go through our day, not seeing those around us.

The next time you meet someone walking with you on the Prairie Path, make eye contact and smile. Or the next time you are checking out at the grocery store, take a moment to ask the cashier about her day, and actually listen to what she is saying and look into her eyes as you respond to her. Or take the time to tell your friend how pretty that color of blouse looks on her. Or to put your phone down and give your spouse or child your undivided attention as you hear about what happened to them today.

Your smile may be the only smile the person on the Prairie Path receives as she walks trying to decide whether to change jobs or not. The cashier at the grocery store may be overwhelmed trying to care for her ill mother, take care of her own family and still go to work on a regular basis. You may be the only person to ask her how she is doing. Or your friend may be struggling with personal challenges and can’t remember the last time someone paid her a compliment. When you give your spouse or child your undivided attention, you will hear what they are saying differently. YOU WILL HEAR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING. You will be living in that moment with them, being present together.

What would it take for you to slow down long enough to take notice of and really see the people around you?

We live life at a fast-pace. As you form your 7-second first impressions of others, be more aware that your conclusions may or may not be accurate. Take time to see and be aware of the people you casually come in contact with during your day, whether they be people you know well or not at all. Take time to notice the color of their eyes and connect with them, if only for a passing moment.

As quickly as your passing moment came with that other person, it will just as quickly pass by. You may never know their story, nor will they know your story. Yet without knowing each other’s story, your smile and kind words could positively change the course of their day and yours.

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