The Face Is an Index to the Mind Essay

Outline:

  • Face reflecting the characteristics
  • The different expressions of a child’s and younger’s faces
  • Man’s inability to hide his emotions
  • Faces are highly trained become a complete mask in politics.
  • The usefulness of hiding the emotion in emergencies
  • A certain minimum of pretentiousness, necessary to move in society
  • Fits of depression, difficult to hide

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

Hamlet

It is one of the afflictions of a lonely life to find one’s thoughts occasionally a little too insistent. I pass a good deal of my time in reading books and now and then my servant can judge from my face whether the book I am reading is happy or gloomy. For one’s thoughts flit across the mind, the face reflects their characteristics. Often, as one reads Voltaire, one breaks out into a guffaw, or puts the book aside and stares into space revolving in his mind Voltaire’s thoughts and wondering at his wit and clear-headedness.

The face always reflects the mind amongst children, the young and sincere persons. A child is the most egotistical of creatures but he makes no effort to hide his egoism. I know of a child who began to cry loudly when his mother paid any attention to his father, because the child thought that the mother belonged to him, and the father had no right to share her with him. Youth is the period when emotions work havoc with us, and they are so powerful that no effort of will can entirely control them. It is also the period when we fall in love. Lovers are so absorbed in their own selves or in each other that they think other human beings do not exist, and tend to ignore them. Nothing can hide love. I remember a scene in Piccadilly when two lovers were going arm in arm and billing and cooing to each other as if they were upon the desert island of Robinson Crusoe, entirely oblivious of the rest of the world. Schoolboys can read each other’s thoughts like a book.

Youth passes and a time comes when we begin to hide our emotions. Life is cruel and brings with it crosses, disappointments and failures. The sensitive man tries to hide his disappointments from the rest of the world. He does not crave for sympathy but for fortitude. He tries to make his face into a mask – though not always successfully.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

No man knew how to suffer so patiently as Spinoza. He sought consolation only in himself, and the only suffering that affected him was that of others. He know better than anyone the excesses of which men are capable, and yet when the Dutch mob tore De Witt to pieces, he could not restrain himself from shuddering at the cruel sight and shed tears. Even Spinoza, so used to mastering the troubles of the soul, could not make his face into a complete mask.

There are certain professions in life in which it is essential that the face should be trained to become a complete mask. These are low politics and diplomacy. The Prince of Wales used to shake hands with hundreds of people every week, and to each he had to give the impression that he was personally interested in him. At a prize-giving function the guest of the evening must be bored, stiff with the speeches that he hears, and the prizes that he distributes, yet he must keep a cheerful expression and show that he is enjoying himself. The advocate sometime knows that his client’s case is weak, yet he has to cross-examine the witnesses with great apparent earnestness and to show that he is engaged in a just plaint. As for politicians, there are few who are not opportunists. Take for instance our party leaders, Ulema’s and religious leaders these days. They can work the mob up into work a fury of fervor and make them do almost anything. When the police or the troops open fire on the law breaking mob; the leaders are nowhere in sight. Yet they profess to work in the interests of the masses. Their faces are such mask that not a single character. In diplomacy, one has to negotiate with one’s enemy at the same table sitting like the best of friends. It was of people of this type that Hamlet said: “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

Having control of one’s features, not allowing the face to index the mind, is useful in emergencies. In a great disaster, like the Earthquake (8th October 2005), those who were doing the salvage work, had to appear calm, and optimistic, though the vultures of anxiety for their dear ones may have been tearing their hearts.

A certain minimum of hypocrisy is necessary in order to move in society. The face must be trained to those emotions only which we want it to show, not those that are actually in our mind. If I meet a man on the Mall and he tells me that the uncle of his brother-in-law’s wife has caught a cold, I must at once pull a long face and as piously that I hope he will soon get over it. We have to train our face to reflect the emotions of those whom we meet every day, otherwise social intercourse will be impossible.

The hardest to hide and overcome are fits of depression. The face refuses to obey the will and the blues will be out. We poor, single men are rather handicapped in such a situation. Married men bully their wives, grumble at the dinner and insist on the children’s going to bed. All of which, creating as it does, a good deal of disturbance in the house, is a great relief to the feelings of the man in the blues. But the bachelor can only read poetry, sit in the dark, and think what a hollow world this is.

Yet there are occasions when the face must show the heart-bidding long farewell to a friend at the railway station, or reading the news that an article of yours has been accepted by the press. Self – restraint on these occasions is not worth much. There is no harm in allowing the emotions to have a little pay now and then because the saddest spectacle on earth is a man who has killed his feelings.

A good story has come from the First World War 1914-1918. Two men were facing machine-gun fire and the face of one was pale. The other said, “You are afraid.” The first man replied “Yes, I am. But if you were half as afraid as I am you would have run away.” This shows that the face is not always a good index of the mind. Sometimes when we go to someone to ask for a favor and he receives us stonily and says, “I will see what I can do about it” we wish his face showed more of his thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *