“Thank you so much for coming over to talk to me. Your acceptance of me for being different means so much to me. “

There are two old sayings that often prove there are two sides to every story. The first saying is, “never judge a book by its cover.” The second saying is “first impressions are lasting impressions.” After spending several years working as a Program Leader and volunteering at several nonprofit youth organizations, I know first hand, that everyone deserves a second chance at making an impression. A few years ago, I was a presenter at the Dallas Father and Daughter summit for middle school girls. The topic was self-acceptance and building strong relationships with your peers and parents. I ask the group of middle school girls to create teams of two to discuss topics within the presentation. One young girl isn’t in a team and no one is asking to join her. I immediately walk over to her and begin going over the topics with her. She smiles and opens up about her love of her father and everything that is going on in her life. The discussion lasts for about fifteen minutes and I return to the front of the room for feedback on lessons learned from all of the teams.

At the close of the session, the young girl comes up to me and says, “Thank you so much for coming over to talk to me. Your acceptance of me for being different means so much to me.“

I immediately thought “what an incredible expression of gratitude for someone who instead of judging you for being different begins a journey of getting to know you better.” I could relate to her I am only child and enjoy taking the road less traveled by being different. This empathy allows me to avoid falsely labeling people initially as mean and in this instance; it would be “A Case of Mistaken Mean Girl Identity.”

There are times when first impressions prove to be right but in many cases consistency of character interactions prove initial impressions to be otherwise. I now have a fresh perspective in my work as an After School Program Leader for Heart House, which serves refugee and immigrant children in the Vickery Meadow community of Dallas. Each day our students come in with different challenges beyond academics including language barriers of fifteen different backgrounds of the one hundred twenty students served. These challenges of language barriers means that socially and emotionally you never know what is behind the tough exterior impacting the students’ character development.

From these lessons of experiences working with young people, I challenge you to ask yourself these three questions before judging a person by a cover and when determining the impact of a first impression.

1) The first question is, “Is this person guarded or being rude in the interaction we are having?” Guarded meaning cautious and having possible reservations. Remember not everyone is fully open when you are first meeting.

2) What are the circumstances around the first meeting? Is it an intense first meeting due to unfavorable circumstances?

3) Am I just being judgmental because someone is different than the ideals I have about something?

Overall, as Plaid for Women builds the strong crusade in the “No Mean Girls” campaign your daily action is to not label people mean for being different. Daily acknowledge when your stereotypes and prejudges are limiting you from getting to know some amazing people.

If you would like to hear from Alicia M Morgan about accepting people for being different check out this Plaid for Women Podcast -“Embracing our Individuality: What it Really Means