Has this ever happened to you?
Standing on line at the supermarket checkout, davening next to someone in shul, sitting next to someone at a meeting, you notice that the person beside you bears a strong resemblance to someone you know, and like. Instinctively, you feel and act more friendly to him than might be expected, perhaps drawing a suspicious look.
Alternatively, she looks like someone with whom you’ve had a run-in, and you start to shy away, perhaps drawing nervous glances.
This happens to me all the time. One person I met a few months ago resembles a cousin of mine. Another looks like the principal at a school in a community in which I once lived. A third matches a regular from one of my shiurim in Allentown, and a fourth strongly resembles a boy I taught for his bar mitzvah. Yet another looks like my children’s former pediatrician, and another like a person who gave me an incredibly hard time in my shul – a dozen years ago.
The result: I meet people and instantly feel friendly or cold, paternal or jokey or turned-off or trusting, based not on any experience with them but on experience with people whom they resemble.
I know it’s happening, I l know my reaction is just the product of a resemblance, but I feel it anyway.
Where does this come from?
1. Part of it is from the general disorientation of being uprooted from a small-to-mid-sized city where I lived for eight years, to a megalopolis with a ton of people I’ve never met. Since moving to Toronto in August, I’ve meet many hundreds of people, in all parts of the city. I see people in one place, then, weeks or months later, run into them in a completely different part of the city. I meet someone at Shopper’s Drug Mart, then in shul, then at a shiur, then at a shiva house… it’s all very disorienting, and remembering people’s names and associations and roles is occasionally a real challenge.
2. Part of it is from the mind’s natural urge to categorize: We make intuitive leaps in order to simplify our input, grouping people and interactions in different ways – and some of those leaps are just wrong.
3. And part of it is that physiognomy – the practice of reading people’s character from their appearance – is real. Posture, facial expression, alertness and more are often a product of personality, and so we tend to intuit, based on experience, that people who look alike will also have similar personalities.
And so I find myself asking myself, not infrequently (and agrammatically): Who do you think you’re talking to?