Charles Darwin believed that the involuntary expressions of man were directly influenced by his various emotions and sensations. He believed that these expressions grew and evolved by means of natural selection from the expressions and behaviours of animals. He also believed that these expressions, through photographs, would be understood and wordlessly explained by any eyes that looked upon it. He tested this theory by taking photographs of the expressions of people showing various emotions and then taking those photos to small villages (with limited outside contact) and asked those villagers to guess the emotion of the person in the photograph. Every villager guessed correctly – without hesitation.
Emotions are primal. We understand them when we see them in the faces of people we love, and even those we don’t, just like in the animal kingdom, as Darwin had proven. Something that is inately human, is our preference to ignore most of these emotions. We ignore the expressions we see that are filled with rage and look away from faces twisted with grief. We see all of these expressions for a reason, they are built into our design with a purpose. No matter what language or race you are, you will always find understanding – even if it is not acknowledged through words.
I can’t count how many people have said to me that they never know what to say to someone who seems inconsolable. If we are all related through expression, perhaps words aren’t what you need.
What would compassion look like on your face?
Pfizer Canada Inc. has a new campaign. It’s called “more than medication” and it intends to be instructional on improving your health and wellness beyond just the use of medication. It’s a brilliant philosophy; one I wish I’d come up with myself! The site offers a plethora of interactive tools, informative articles and everyday tips that are prepared and presented by an Advisory Board of doctors who are considered leaders in their chosen fields, and on behalf of Pfizer.
You may have seen the commercial for this campaign on TV; with the teenage boy who paints the “Be Brave” graffiti outside the small girl’s bedroom. It’s a very touching sentiment and truth be told I get a lump in my throat each time I think of his gesture toward her.
As touching as it is, I also feel some bitterness about the message painted. We are led to believe that this little girl is quite ill, possibly terminal, and we are telling her to BE BRAVE. Not asking – commanding. Basically, buck up little beaver, suck it up and put on your happy face because it’s much too difficult for us to deal with if you’re sad or afraid. It’ll just be harder on everyone, so it’s better if it’s just harder on you. (That’s not Webster’s definition but its close) So we force a cloak of courage over her and we throw this little girl into battle as a warrior. Does she always have to be brave? Are you always brave? Is it even healthy to always be brave and courageous? By toting this jargon over and over again to the ill or downtrodden we imply that to have fear or show sadness is cowardice and weak. It is implied because we have all learned some associations to our emotions – some are good (positive) and some are bad (negative).
Really they just are what they are… emotions. We determine what we consider good or bad or acceptable or unacceptable. There is no great Emotions God in the sky dictating that we treat some emotions with open arms and that we turn our backs in disregard to others. Granted that some are fun to feel while others are not so much fun, but that doesn’t mean they are bad; or not worth having. We need to stop deciding for other people what is acceptable for them to feel and what we are willing to tolerate from them.
These associations have been around a lot longer than us, and there are plenty more unconscious associations that we make every day. Why does it matter? Each day that you go about your unconscious life you may be unaffected by these associations, but be sure that you affect other people, and sometimes in devastating ways that you aren’t even aware of.
I think I will write to Pfizer and suggest they change the words “Be Brave” into “Today I will be brave for you” or “We’re here” or “You’re loved” or something that doesn’t require our egos dumping a burden of guilt on someone who just might not feel so brave today. It’s OK to be afraid sometimes, let’s tell her that.
I’ve been asked recently, by more than one individual, why I’m doing this project. The answer to that runs much deeper than a one or two sentence reply. I do aspire to help people, to be available to them in whatever capacity they need from me, and to educate on the simple cleverness of just being. However the full truth runs deeper still. It’s who I am, it’s who I’ve always been. I’m a traveller… an explorer of humanity and mortality.
When my father was a young man on the cusp of his adult life, he came across a poem written by Will Allen Dromgoole. This poem opened in him the truth of who he was and who he wanted to be. Like my father, I am a bridge builder.
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”
~Will Allen Dromgoole