You are what I think you should be…

At my new job,  I was supposed to meet someone for a discussion last week. Just to make sure that I make the right pitch, I enquired with a colleague how this person was. My colleague told me that he had never interacted with him, but from his appearance, he looked like a very irritable fellow. Soon I wasn’t the meeting with a person whose face exactly just said that –I am a very irritable person.

Like most of you, I too believed that someone’s face could tell a lot about his character; which means there is a cruel face, kind face, gentle face, dumb face etc. This incident made me think on this further. Why the hell there is a connection between how someone’s face looks and his character? Do we get it as a package? Or is it likely that one influences the other? Then what comes first? Does the character makes someone’s face the way it is (there are some people who think this way, especially when it comes to things like cruelty) or it is the other way round?

I found it hard to believe and as I thought about this a totally different dimension came to my mind.

There is already an association in the mind which maps different faces to different characters. We have learnt it from our elders, society and mainly films. That is to say, given a set of photos, most of the people would pick the same face for a particular expression.

Fine. Interestingly, this association in the mind forms a strong conditioning that influences our behavior.

 Typically our character has two components; one what we are truly made up of and the other what we develop in response to our environment.

Now assume that someone is born with a face that looks cruel (going by the normal conventions). He may not be aware of that to begin with, but the people around him react (unconsciously) to the way his face looks and this conditions their behavior. What they think of him is now ‘hidden’ in their interactions and his subconscious mind starts to react to this subtle message. If he is more of reactive nature, over a period of time and with many such interactions, he builds the character as conveyed by the people around.

I think this is what happens. People subtly induce the character on to someone depending on a patterns (association) they have in their minds and most of the people have no option than to conform to it. When they approach that person, there is an unconscious message that gets conveyed.

So the problem really is to do with the face and the patters all of us carry in our heads…

If there is someone who’s face and his character does not match (like you think he is a rough guy but he is actually a funny guy..), he is most likely a very creative person. Because most likely he has resisted this massive brain washing that the society attempted on him by being simply what he is.  

Add on:

Once I had a manager who (I think) typically learnt most  skills from books (including parenting, he told me once). There was often a problem between us. When we were in an intense conversation, I would take eyes off his face and stare typically at a blank wall or out through the window. For me these were the moments of intense attention, but he would take it that I have tuned off.

For all these games to work, people should have learnt from the same books or be from the same culture.


One thought on “You are what I think you should be…

  1. Bala

    Hey Sajeev,
    nice thoughts! Vilayanur Ramachandran, in his book, “Phantoms in the Brain” has talked about how the brain recognizes a face. He talks about this person who, after a stroke, thinks that his mother is an impostor. there is a long explanation for this, but there is a follow up experiment. This patient is shown series of images of his mother at various angles and he thinks all of them are different people and all of them are his mother’s impostors.
    so in your example, the turning of your face to a direction was construed as an insult or lack of attention because the assessment is happening for a different person 🙂



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