And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
It might surprise you to learn that the man who became legendary by “keeping Christmas well,” is none other than Ebenezer Scrooge! It’s true; by the last page of Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, miserly, misanthropic, irascible Scrooge has been transformed into nothing less than a saint with a sense of humor. How then can it be, that today this man’s name is synonymous with the very character traits he so successfully overcame?
Unfortunately for Scrooge, first impressions are literally made in the blink of an eye. Princeton psychologists Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis demonstrated in a series of experiments that it only takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. They conducted five experiments, each focusing on a specific trait—attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness. Judgments made after a tenth of a second correlated highly with judgments made when folks had an unlimited amount of time in which to form an opinion. That attractiveness was highly correlated comes as no surprise. People have been talking about love at first sight for eons. But though there was strong correlation on all five traits, the highest correlation was with the trait of trustworthiness. It’s a bit disconcerting that we decide to trust someone in—literally—the blink of an eye. (Perhaps more disconcerting, is that someone is determining our trustworthiness in a similar amount of time.) After that, people unconsciously look for behavior that confirms their first impression. Research has shown that while factual contrary data can change the initial impression, vestiges will still remain. It’s not surprising then, that a first impression is hard to shake—particularly a negative one. Unless you’re a hermit, this is a dynamic you shouldn’t ignore. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, people are forming impressions of you on the basis of virtually no information. If you aren’t careful you can find yourself with a bad reputation that has the half-life of plutonium. This leaves no doubt; it’s better to create a good first impression than to repair a bad one—as the example of Scrooge reminds us.
This time of year gives us an opportunity to reflect on the things we do that might create a poor impression. If you treat people rudely or indifferently; if you easily flash anger; if you constantly find fault or too often rely on sarcasm, you’re doing the kinds of things that hurt not only you, but your family, friends and co-workers as well. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, tells us that, “…Christmas is a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.” If you live those characteristics, chances are you’ll have a reputation that doesn’t need reformation. Let this spirit of Christmas inspire your New Year. Don’t let first impressions just happen. Live so that people see you at your best. Keep Christmas well and let its spirit enliven every day of the year ahead! —Ebert