On Making an Impression
We have a tendency to judge people by first impressions. It is often the case that our having done well or poorly at the outset will colour how we are subsequently regarded, whether or not it is justified. Here is a somewhat embarrassing illustration.
Many years ago, as a young man as yet without a career, I was employed in airport security. Our shift began at about four in the morning and a car would pick me up at 3 am. On the first morning, my alarm did not go off and I awoke to hear the car horn. I rushed to get dressed and during the long drive to the airport I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable. I discovered to my horror that in my haste I had put on shoes from two different pairs, both for the left foot. More devastating yet, I could make out in the semi light that one was black and the other brown. Fortunately, I was wearing jeans which, being too long I had rolled up above the shoes. I unrolled them in order to cover the disaster as best as possible, and at work remained standing behind a table the entire morning, not taking a single coffee break, hoping that no one would notice. Somehow, I managed to get through the day without being discovered. Each day ended with a meeting where the security officer in charge of the shift would discuss the day's events. This time he mentioned my name, not, to my great relief, to point out that my shoes did not match, but rather to commend me in front of my fellows on the fact that I had been so committed to the work that I had not taken a single break. I was held up as an example, and unjustifiably earned a permanent reputation as a devoted worker (one which I henceforth felt necessary to justify).
In medieval fortifications first impressions were, if not everything, very important indeed. It was probably the impression given by the Fatimid walls and Bronze Age ramparts of Ascalon that enabled that city to hold out against the Franks for fifty-four years. The huge size of the fortifications of Crac des Chevaliers, Safed and 'Atlit (Chastel Pelerin) and the enormous ashlars used in the construction of Montfort and 'Atlit worked on the minds of potential besiegers, raising their doubts and fears and sometimes causing them to decide not to attack a castle. When in 1909-10 T.E. Lawrence (later Lawrence of Arabia) described 'Atlit in his study of crusader castles, he referred to its design as "simply unintelligent" and even as "a stupidity".* He, like the Mamluks centuries before, was misled by first impressions. He could only see its "brute strength", its "impassable height". He could not observe its clever design much of which was at that time largely hidden under modern village houses, but he did not appreciate that the immensity that he had scorned was part of its cleverness. The enormous walls and their massive bossed stones may well have been the reason why 'Atlit was avoided by Baybars and the later Mamluk conquerors, and why by August 1291 it was the only castle still held by the Franks in the kingdom of Jerusalem.
*T.E. Lawrence, Crusader Castles (new edition with notes by Denys Pringle) Oxford, 1988, p. 71.