When my professor instructed everyone to pair up with a nearby classmate, my heart sank as I looked up to see a girl in a familiar, orange hoodie lock eyes with me. I had shared every other class with this girl over the past four years but had never exchanged so much as a ‘hello’ with her. She always has on what my Oakland-native roommate calls “stank face,” an unfortunate Popeye-like facial expression that makes her appear as if she’s permanently in the proximity of a baby in an unchanged diaper. Not only did this render her a prime candidate for premature wrinkles, this also caused her to exude an unpleasant attitude that made me, even at that moment, automatically interpret her efforts at friendly eye contact as straight-up mad dogging.
Initial judgments play a very powerful role in how we treat others and how we ourselves are treated. We’ve always been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but the human brain is hardwired to make snap decisions. The moment you set your eyes on someone, your brain works like Wolfram Alpha to compute that person’s levels of approachability, competence and especially trustworthiness. Research has suggested that it takes people a mere tenth of a second to form a comprehensive impression of a stranger based on his or her face.
Closing out potential friends without even giving them a chance, however, is severely limiting. Friendship certainly isn’t marriage; it doesn’t take a huge commitment to simply return a friendly smile and open yourself up to people who could potentially become your next best friend. One of my closest friends currently has two full sleeves of tattoos that he has been building up since freshman year. If I had run into him for the first time today, I would have labeled him a no-good hoodrat and scampered far, far away, never discovering how well our senses of humor gelled together.
There are people at UCSD with whom you cross paths with every single day and have likely always wondered about. UCSD has its own version of Humans of New York called Portraits of UCSD, which was started by a biochemistry student last year and currently has over 1,500 likes on Facebook. Perusing through this page, I was surprised at the number of fellow students I recognized — people I had merely brushed past at Porter’s Pub concerts or stood behind in line at Sunshine Market — and how their captions revealed aspects of their personality that I would have never guessed about them.
The Snapchats that my friend discreetly sends me of weirdos in her class — including most recently a guy whose hair rivals Powerline’s from “A Goofy Movie” — will always be hilarious, but I now have a heightened awareness that the crafted personas we oftentimes unwittingly assign strangers are not necessarily indicative of their actual personalities, as was the case with Stank Face. I’ll actually be seeking her out next time in lecture (although admittedly with the ulterior motive of eventually finding out what causes her face to look like that).