Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Truth is Written All Over Your Face

Emotions show on our face.  We are, in fact, hard wired to recognize how others are feeling by observing their faces.  Researchers tell us that non verbal communication is between 60-70 % of the impact of a message, and that facial expressions are a major indicator of how a person is feeling.

There are 43 muscles in our faces.  When we make facial expressions we are sending information about ourselves.   The way we contract or expand our facial muscles sends clues about our emotional state, our physical state and our credibility. 

A frown is a universal sign of sadness or annoyance, while a smile is usually seen as a sign of friendliness.  Yet, our facial expressions are not always genuine.  For example, there’s a difference between a false smile and a real smile.  The difference lies in the tiny wrinkles that appear at the corners of the eye during a genuine smile.  Dr.Paul Ekman, who has become an expert in the detection of lying, says that “everybody can voluntarily make their lips smile, but very few people can contract the muscle that surrounds the eyes.”

Dr. Ekman, devised a system for assessing the facial display of each of our emotions.  The TV series, “Lie To Me, ” was  based on his work.  The show’s main characters, Dr. Lightman (Tim Roth) and Dr. Foster (Kelli Williams), are deception experts, called in on difficult cases to see if they can decipher when someone is lying.  Their approach includes not only direct observation, but the slowed down film footage of the person under investigation.   These stills show the inconsistencies between a person’s verbal expression and their involuntary body language, voice or gesture.  These body expressions, displayed in microseconds, can’t be hidden, even voluntarily.  On the show, they become the key to discovering whether someone is covering up the truth.   

I found the series fascinating.  It presents a very clear picture of how someone can be saying one thing, while the body is saying something else.  You might be interested in seeing how the facial muscles change in each of our most basic emotions.   Check it out here.  Or see a clip of the Lie To Me Series.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What About Compassion?

My previous posts have been about sharing some of the thinking that went into writing my book, Let Your Feelings Show, but today I’m taking a detour to share with you an article my son, Jeff, wrote for Rolling Stone.  It’s in the current, July 8th issue and is about a group of middle class Americans who have lost everything.  It’s made me think a lot about our collective responsibility to one another and our capacity to be kind and compassionate, or callus and uncaring. 

While we all know the importance of independence, we seem less able to also acknowledge our interdependence.  While individual responsibility helps us all become competent, we also will inevitably experience setbacks, make mistakes or experience bad luck.  When this happens, we each need encouragement, support or guidance.   As a society we seem less ready to face this predictable truth.
Jeff’s story is about folks, like you and me, who have held down jobs, owned businesses, paid their mortgages, and cared for their kids.  These folks have never asked for anything and couldn’t have foreseen the sudden unraveling of everything they have ever worked for: the loss of equity in their homes; the loss of businesses or jobs; or the denial of loans.  They have run out of savings and resources and are now living in their cars, parking overnight in a Safe Parking Program in Santa Barbara, California.

You will be dismayed by their plight, and their multiple struggles to simply survive and by the psychic impact of falling so quickly out of middle class into poverty, which un- hinges their sense of identity and unmoors their lives from a prior sense of security.  Their circumstances remind us of how vulnerable we all are in the face of unpredictable events, and make us wonder if we would have the necessary grit to get through.  

As these folks have found out, you can’t count on social agencies to help you through; their goal seems to be to find fault with you for being there in the first place.  Social agencies might prevent starvation, but they don’t provide the support and resources necessary to allow folks to recover and rebuild.  Rather, they promote a circular struggle for daily survival that degrades and humiliates. 

As a society we need to do better.  We need a system that’s compassionate and acknowledges our shared humanity.  We need a system that offers real resources that allow people to build on their good intentions and desire to be productive.  As social animals we all prosper through cooperation and caring.  We all have the capacity to be compassionate and we should have social agencies that reflect this. 

I truly believe in Gandhi’s saying that:

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats it's weakest members."

You can also view the discussion of Jeff's article on MSNB.