Sunday, August 1, 2021

Once Bitten, Twice Shy (MY Eng #21)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details' and 'sink or swim'.

First impression matters. Whether you're attending a job interview or romantic date. That's how human pscyhology works. Fair or unfair, our views of others are shaped largely on how well (or badly) our first encounter went.

That's understandable. Most of us meet new people on a regular basis, whether as part of our work or social life. True, introverts may have a smaller circle of friends and get out less. The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened social interactions. Still, there's no way we can totally avoid first contact.

Working at the back office? You still need to deal with some external contractor every once in a while. Stuck in a lockdown? You still have to smile and greet the food delivery person.

Consciously or unconsciously, we instinctively draw judgments of new faces. Whether positive, negative or neutral. We all have our favourite people to work with. Bad service prompts us to drop a bad review.

* * *

More often than not, we tend to remember the bad encounters. The human brain is hardwired to be on alert from known dangers. As the saying goes: once bittin, twice shy.

Say we're visiting a restaurant for the first time. The waiter is rude. The kitchen got your orders wrong. The manager is unreachable. A single bad meal is enough to put us off forever - and maybe even go on social media to rant and implore others to boycott as well.

Rings a bell? Makes you feel all powerful? Well, think again, because being judgmental cuts both ways. Everyone is a critic. Chances are, people are judging you as harshly as you judge other people.

Worst still, we're fond of gossiping. Spreading rumours. Sensationalism sells. Criticisms tend to gain more coverage than compliments. Before you know it, a single bad day in office turns your reputation in the market from 'Good Guy George' to 'Dodgy Georgie'. Life can be cruel.

* * *

Ultimately, humans are prickly creatures. We're controlled by our primal instincts. We're quick to retreat after a bad beat. And quick to judge others after a bad encounter.

Usually, I would end with some long advice on how we should be more open-minded, understanding, empathetic, blah blah. Sound as it is, we have to be realistic. We can't expect people to be merciful over our mistakes, in equal measure to our own kindness. It's a jungle out there.

And so, for a change, I would end on a more cautionary note. Straighten up when you meet someone new. Choose your words with utmost care. Be nice, because people can be nasty.

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