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Anthony Cleary: First impressions still matter!

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First impressions count, says Anthony Cleary. Photo: Unsplash
First impressions count, says Anthony Cleary. Photo: Unsplash

Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of the truth of the maxim, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

First impressions can be long-lasting, and not only influence how people perceive and remember us, but how they engage with us in the everyday. They can also impact the effectiveness of the work we do.

Given this, I am surprised that people aren’t more attentive to the impression they give to others.

“students were motivated by and responded positively to teachers who were passionate and who gave of their time, those who had a thorough knowledge of the content and inspired a love of learning”

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The mantra of my first years in teaching was, “Never smile until St Patrick’s Day.” It reflected the belief that a staid manner would ensure effective classroom control. I failed miserably.

I loved teaching and smiled often and didn’t wish to give an artificial impression. I soon realised that a serious disposition was not the only way to engage young people.

Students were motivated by and responded positively to teachers who were passionate and who gave of their time, those who had a thorough knowledge of the content and inspired a love of learning.

Through these attributes, I wanted them to see I loved my vocation. I also believe they left a lasting impression.

Ultimately, we choose the impression that we want to give others.

Creating the right impression is not always easy. Life is stressful. We are time-poor and face a range of competing priorities.

In these circumstances, we don’t always put our best selves forward. Despite our IQ, our EQ (emotional intelligence) is sometimes lacking.

Pre-occupied by our own needs, we are not attuned to, or are indifferent to, the needs of others and fail to be present in our interactions with them.

Our minds are distracted by our own concerns—by the next text, the next email, the next post. We give the impression others don’t really matter. Is this really the impression that we want to give?

People have long memories, and we know this because we remember the times when we have felt undervalued in our interactions with others.

Our interactions are not just with individuals, but with communities as well: workplaces, parishes and schools. And just as with people, these make first impressions on us too.

Instinctively, we know whether we are welcome when we visit a place for the very first time. If we don’t have a sense of welcome, we might never go back.

This is perfectly natural, because we each yearn for a sense of belonging wherever we find ourselves. This presents a challenge to all of us.

“instinctively, we know whether we are welcome when we visit a place for the very first time. if we don’t have a sense of welcome, we might never go back”

Animated by the spirit of the Gospel, our parishes, schools, health and social services must be places of welcome, hospitality and service, where the seminal truths and values of a Catholic worldview are celebrated and shared, and a spirit of genuine community is fostered.

If our communities are characterised by a joyful spirit of fraternal communion, then people will stay and keep coming back. Their involvement in a faith community can and should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience where there is a strengthening of their religious identity and their solidarity with others.

Joy is the key, a point regularly affirmed by Pope Francis, who said in his message for the 2023 day of prayer, “Our shared mission as Christians is to bear joyful witness wherever we find ourselves, through our actions and words, to the experience of being with Jesus and members of his community, which is the church.”

When people look at us for the first time, or at any time for that matter, may they see a genuine and joyful witness to the Gospel, and may that be their lasting impression.

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