“Are you Einstein?” she asked.
Let me tell you a long-forgotten story that gradually took shape in mind.
(WARNING: Not a love story.)
Karina and I are utter strangers who always chanced upon each other on the train every day to work. I knew of her name from the carefully stitched letters on what I surmise was her work uniform. She would always have her headphones on with pop music playing in full blast and head carefully leaning on a steel bar near the door.
One Friday, I asked Karina who was standing in her usual spot. “Are you Einstein?”
She looked at me intently, her brow moving prominently into a curve. Karina scoffed but didn’t utter a word. At the very next station, she took off.
Do you remember when you first saw Albert Einstein from one of the pages of your Science textbook or Science bulletin boards?
I can vividly recall the moment I saw this funny photo of him with his tongue out. It was one of those days in grade school where I had to be in a different school for a Science competition. This exact same photo was pinned to a wall clearly used to catch attention.
Students began to swarm the place I was in, only taking delight at Einstein’s expression and never bothering to read the trivia and strange facts that came along the length of the post. One student said, “Aglanglanga nga bagtit.” (He looks crazy.) Others chimed in their approval with hoots and hearty laughs. Another said, “Kaslang haan nga agdigdigos.” (He looks like he doesn’t take a bath.)
For some, if they never had any idea who Einstein is, the first time they see him, their impression would be most likely negative.
So, going back to the story of my misadventure with Karina, truth is, she is NOT Einstein and I have known that from the very beginning.
At that moment, I was Einstein. Karina took of the train and I never had the chance to rectify her negative impression of me for asking if she was Einstein just like Einstein who was laughed at by the kids for his looks.
The exaggerated impact of false impressions impose limitations in the likelihood of forming a genuine connection. As relational beings, we are hard-wired to crave emotional closeness with our kind. We seek security and satisfaction. We work for acceptance, admiration, and understanding. However, having a preconceived idea of what and who a person is based from our initial interactions, can greatly affect our ability to build rapport.
In this day and age, we are slowly failing to engage and foster positive relationships. Whatever happened to emotional connection? Are we too preoccupied in indulging ourselves in favor of self-interest that we disregard the real meaning of interconnectedness? If a person made a bad impression on you, you just ditch the possibility of knowing him/her?
Now I wonder, how do we live life with meaning, equanimity, purpose and compassion if we fail to get past the invisible barrier we place between us and others?
Is there only “I” or “YOU”? Will there still be “WE”?