I used to see this girl around campus all the time. When I was late for class, running down Towerview Road, she would be on the other side of the road, walking sedately. She would be holding a salad in front of me in line at Au Bon Pain or sitting in the library on the first floor, books spread around her. I knew nothing about her, except that she seemed to be everywhere I was, and she was always dressed impeccably, with her hair falling behind her in a shining mass. She never smiled very much. I thought her the epitome of the type of girl I both despised and admired—beautiful, exclusive and untouchable. In my head, she had a group of three glamorous friends and would go to Cancun with them during spring break. She would depend on her beauty to manipulate people into doing things for her. I had met girls like her before, and so I dismissed the possibility of ever being her friend. Months later, when I had forgotten about her existence, we were put together on a group assignment. It was only then that I discovered how wrong I was about everything, on all counts.

I have a bad tendency to judge people very quickly (I am working on it, I promise). It is the easiest thing in the world to look someone up and down and paste together a picture of a personality using their choice of clothing, bone structure and general demeanor. After all, don’t our choices reflect our characters? What else is there to go off? I look at the people around me and create these little stories about them and the way they must be. Why would she wear that outfit if she were not conservative? Why would he never smile if he were not a mean person? I imagine that people translate their decisions into actions so that they look like the selves they are. Unfortunately, when there are no surprises to people, it is easy to become arrogant. Everyone suddenly becomes a cliché or caricature. This gives you a healthy disrespect for humanity. I know that it is an old lesson by now, the story about the books and covers. But the older we get, the more covers apparently matter. We polish up this cover of ours because, to a world that often assumes things at face value, we are what we appear to be.

Yet this is perhaps the biggest lie we have collectively decided to believe. In fact, people do not always portray themselves as they really are. What they look like has very little to do with how they really are. Sometimes it has more to do with how they wish they were. We all have a choice in the faces we show to the big, ugly world. We all know this. We hide the worst parts of ourselves all the time, deflecting our insecurities with whatever clothes or profile photos or internships we can find. The identities that we broadcast to the public are made of so many delicate pieces, each piece disguising an identity that no one else will really understand, unless they dedicate the effort to do so. We all know this. We point out how constructed these markers are all the time. None of the outside superficialities represent the integral essence of our personalities.

So why do we assume they represent others so accurately? Time and time again, I have made grand assumptions about people that have been proven wrong. Shyness can first appear as awkwardness. Confidence can first manifest as arrogance. Friendliness can first seem superficial. Why do we still treat people as they look?

I suppose it is simply easier.

If we did not judge people by their first impressions, we would have to learn to not judge at all. We would begin at a pure blank slate with each person, free of bias from physical influences, and would have to build up a picture of them through shared experiences instead of assumptions. We would have to take the time to know people and know them well. We would perhaps uncover rich insights about the people who we live our lives with that will surprise us. We would perhaps have to be more open-minded and deal with the realization that everyone has something to teach, no matter how understandable or categorized they seem. Those things are hard and take humility and open-mindedness and understanding—but they can be done.

I am trying to imagine living that kind of life, the one that takes place in that old story about books and covers. I am trying to imagine being someone who treats people not as they appear but as they are, without assuming anything. I am trying to imagine how things might have been if I had never had to complete a project with that girl I thought I had pinned down so well. One foggy night, as we worked on homework together, she looked up at me through a screen of her beautiful hair. All I could see were her eyes.

“I’m falling apart,” she whispered. I never would have guessed.

Isabella Kwai is a Trinity senior. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.