Inscrutable. That’s the only word that comes to mind as I gaze across the room and see face after face, expressionless, sitting in a coffee bar with tablets, smartphones, and notebooks. Only the occasional person is not tapping or scrolling, and no one is making eye contact. As for those far-off and neutral looks, I find myself a little envious. “Expressionless” is tough for me.
I’m easy to read. I’m dreadful at bluffing. Everything shows on my face.
More inscrutable (though I can think of a few other terms) are… politicians, as they mouth the words they think we want to hear, deny words we know they’ve just spoken, or retreat to reframing words that serve them at a point in time, but are subject to (ahem)… situational change.
Setting aside the politicians for the moment, I do find myself curious as to how one perfects the art of blanking out — regardless of what is taking place inside. This isn’t to say that I don’t know how to wear a necessary mask (smiling at a social engagement, nodding politely despite boredom, managing to mirror positive body language in a one-on-one even if I’m fighting a headache). However, I find it a strain. I also find it counterproductive in many instances.
Now let’s consider those politicians I momentarily set aside — those who dwell in the erasure of fact as documented, or attempting to “white out” what has just been recorded and cannot be taken back. And I use the imagery of erasure and white-out intentionally; anyone who has read or watched the news in the past 24 hours will be aware of yet another despicable expression of bigotry from top levels of the US government.
I do not wish for the whiting out of America, or American values. I do not wish for the vulgarity and excuse-making we are seeing to become the America that we become, much less characteristic of the global community’s view of us. I do not believe in the erasure of what is clearly not a mistake in rhetoric, but rather, a constant drumbeat of hate and prejudice.
And I cannot seem to remain expressionless on this one — nor do I choose to remain silent.
The Value of a Poker Face
As I think of the mastery of the “poker face,” there’s no question that it has value. My ex was superb at being inscrutable – oh-so-helpful in negotiations! In fact, two of my exes were very skilled in this area, and I have observed that one of my sons is quite skilled as well.
Not only is the ability to mask one’s feelings useful in negotiating, but it’s helpful in numerous jobs that routinely deal with emotional subject matter — from broadcasters to teachers to social workers to journalists. In these roles, your emotion is beside the point; your role is to acquire or provide information and assistance. It is about “others” and their needs, not you and yours.
And yet, there are times when seeing a broadcaster’s emotion is extraordinarily moving. In the bombshell pronouncements of the past 24 hours (Trump’s raw and racist references to Haitians and the entire continent of Africa, referring to “shithole” countries in the immigration discussion), several on-air journalists visibly teared up. They were retelling their own family stories of immigrating to the US, not to mention reminding us of the tragic consequences of the Haitian earthquake eight years ago, today.
Their emotion? At least as powerful as their condemnation of Trump’s words.
We Telegraph Our Common Humanity… And?
This American Psychological Association Today post speaks to the near universality of seven emotions that are telegraphed through our expressions. They are: joy, surprise, contempt, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear.
And we all know the health benefits of smiling, and contagious, uplifting and stress-relieving impacts of laughter.
This post on Three Things Your Face Tells the World is interesting — potentially controversial as well — and I confess, I’m skeptical. It posits that our expressions will reveal aggression, sexual orientation, and personality.
The first? I buy that. But the second? Unless you find yourself in a room of beautiful people of various types and genders, and you’re being scrutinized in your mode of looking at them, well… I’m not so sure.
That last? Personality? Really?
A Good Rule: Never Assume
Messaging of any sort involves three components: the sender, the message itself, and the receiver. Whatever the sender’s intent, the manner in which the message is constructed (and delivered), as well as the context and experience of the receiver, impact its alignment with intent.
Because of the many factors involved in communication — including body language — “never assume” is an excellent rule to apply blanket statements that may or may not be well-informed.
Like I said, my ex was masterful at the poker face (an exceptionally useful quality) and like many skilled in salesmanship, he had an extremely charming and charismatic quality that he could turn on at will. The extent to which that revealed his true “at ease” personality? Not so much.
I know, I know. That’s anecdotal, not “data.” So where is the data to support the hypothesis that we can discern “personality” — whatever that means — from the look on a person’s face? Wouldn’t we need extensive time-based “data” (comments, silences, behaviors, actions, choices, and yes, body language) from which to judge?
Read My Face? Read My Lips?
I make no claim of being highly skilled at reading people, though I’m reasonably good at reading some people.
But just as everything shows on my face, I tend to be trusting of the facial expressions I see from others. All the more reason to judge by words and deeds over months and years — whether in a relationship, in a work scenario, in relying on the media, or in the context of those whose job it is to “lead.”
In the pitiful excuse for (an absence of?) leadership that I am referencing this morning, we have decades of examples — words and actions — giving credence to the authenticity of the vile remarks that were reported, and the belief system those remarks support.
As for the past day, what you would read on my face would be a mix of disgust and sadness. And yet, I remain glad that anyone who deals with me can see me — what I feel, and how I am processing what they are saying to me. And the broadcast journalists who let down their guard and allowed viewers a glimpse of their experiences were, for me, reason to feel both hopeful and affirmed.
I welcome your thoughts.
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