You’ve Got That Look

“Lemon, what happened in your childhood to make you believe that people are good?”

That’s one of Jack Donaghy’s lines from 30 Rock. The character, played by Alec Baldwin, is a straight shooter, whose facial expressions reinforce his words.

In real life, there’s often a disconnect between the things that people say and the facial expressions they display. When Jack speaks, there’s no ambiguity in his message.

I laugh every time that I hear that line because – while I’ve never been asked that question, in that way – I recognize the look that comes with it.

It’s a look of confusion.

It’s a look that says:

“How could you be so naive? People are bad. Don’t you know that?”

There’s plenty of evidence to support this world view. Nearly everything in the media confirms the notion that people are bad. Stories featuring people doing good are rare, so expecting people to be good is like carrying an umbrella every day. You’ll manage to stay dry when it rains, but you risk looking like an idiot the rest of the time.

It’s a look of derision.

It’s a look that says:

“You poor misguided fool, you must be a liberal.”

The wearer of this look believes that I must have blinders on which prevent me from seeing the obvious. They offer as proof: high crime rates, the corruption of the powerful, and the abuses by beneficiaries of social programs – welfare recipients, the unemployed, etc.

They insist that a helping hand is no better than a handout, because people are largely lazy, shiftless beings who are always looking for an easy out.

It’s a look of evolution.

It’s a look that says:

“I used to be like you, but not anymore.”

A person wearing this look feels that he’s pulled enough knives out of his back to know better. He’s taken the instances where people have acted badly and projected those characteristics onto everyone going forward. He’s evolved, so he safeguards his interests, because no one else will. He knows that it’s just a matter of time before I come to know the sad truth about people that he’s already learned.

If you’ve given me this look, in any of its forms, don’t worry – I won’t hold that against you.

I understand how easy it is to lose faith in humanity, so I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong if you feel that way. I will tell you that there’s no need to be confused by someone, like me, who refuses to abandon his neighbor, even when he disappoints. I’ll ask that you don’t deride my belief in the capacity of people to be selfless when doing things for others, because I’ve seen many examples. If you think about it, I’m certain that you have too. To evolve is to change for the better; to progress and develop. Efforts to achieve our shared objectives are hampered when we are false with one another, with either our words or our faces.

Our expressions may only hint at what we’re really thinking, but there would be a lot less room for speculation if our words more often bore a resemblance to what we said with our faces.


  • Are you okay with “putting on a face” in social situations?
  • Do you believe that it’s effective?
  • How do you react if you are called on it?

A special thanks to Brown for coming up with the perfect song to go with this post, which eluded me when I first put it up.

Published by

Ray Colon

He works with numbers for a living, but don't judge - boring accountants need love too. His blog has no niche (unless writing about things that are important to him is a niche). Some folks cringe when he gets “all political” on them, but he does it anyway when he's in that kind of mood. Sometimes, he writes something nice about someone, but you shouldn't get used to that. His first book, the one he hasn't written yet, is not available on Amazon. Subscribe to Ray's Blog via RSS  or Email.

42 thoughts on “You’ve Got That Look”

  1. Pithy and engaging and a wee bit charged – for me anyway. I feel compelled to respond because this very topic has obsessed me over the last ten years.

    After an uphill slog against the slings and arrows of trying to find the playing field, let alone learn the “rules”, I have come to the comforting conclusion that it’s both, and we are all both to varying degrees, for more or less time spent in one camp or the other.

    I think we are all engulfed in a world of shattering stimulus and sensation – so much so that we have to turn ourselves off and desensitize just to get by.

    I think most people these days are just getting by and those that are a bit more comfortable are more inclined to take stock of how to maintain status quo, with a lot more energy spent doing that, in this competitive world.

    None of us are at our best anymore and many are looking for an angle to get ahead, or a quick way to alleviate stress – even if that way is maladaptive.

    All these things you’ve mentioned in your blog entry today are the effects of living and different ways of coping with life lessons, and offers compelling evidence that most of us don’t complete this process, but level out at a lesser stage of integration, which effortlessly maintains that status quo in terms individual awareness, and is reflected in the level development of the collective – thus creating this dog eat dog reality that we act out on autopilot.

    If you can somehow manage to wade through all of this “affect” as they say in the biz, it starts to become apparent that all of our ways of reacting are not who we truly are, when we start to see where the forces that drive our reactions and responses are coming from.

    The more clarity I gain on my own cesspool of “affect”, the more I am able to decide what I really want in any given situation, and take the time necessary to step back and decide what the best course of action is to get what I want.

    For example, in the past I may have forgotten the original goal when I reached for that donut, cigaratte, or cup of coffee without even thinking.

    It’s these little things that add up into one big force.

    It’s something that I often forget, but thankfully, I am often reminded – master the little things, one at a time.

    Eventually that will add up to one big force for good. The good that’s in us all, but underneath all that affect.

    Thanks again for another thought provoking blog.
    elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

    1. Hi Elysia,

      Missed you. I thought I lost you to my subscriber list conversion problems.

      Yes, this post was “a bit charged”. I struggle with this often while I’m writing. I don’t wish to equivocate, so I pick a side and write forcefully, all the while knowing that there’s a fine line between being forthright and coming off like a douche. I try to stay on the positive side of that line. 🙂

      I agree that a lot of us are just getting by and that our daily pursuits are in the forefront of our concerns. But to me, societal concerns are nearly as relevant as personal ones because not only do I have to live in the world we create, but I am sending my two daughters into that world as well. I’d like them to find as compassionate a world as possible when they get there.

      This entire paragraph of yours is brilliant: “All these things you’ve mentioned in your blog entry today are the effects of living and different ways of coping with life lessons, and offers compelling evidence that most of us don’t complete this process, but level out at a lesser stage of integration, which effortlessly maintains that status quo in terms individual awareness, and is reflected in the level development of the collective – thus creating this dog eat dog reality that we act out on autopilot.”

      The little things do add up, and I think this applies to everything. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t go through the effort to contribute my “little thing” through this blog.

      1. No worries Ray, I always look forward to your posts. It seems I have more to say on your blogs, than on my own.

        I agree that social concerns are every bit as important as personal ones. It’s actually a natural phase of human maturity to show as much concern for the communal good as the personal, knowing full well that personal health is very much dependent on the health of everyone around us.

        It very often feels like people aren’t reaching that level of maturity when everywhere around you all you can see is everyone rivited on their own, immediate concerns to the detriment of themselves as well as everyone around them.

        Naturally the question arises about the quality of the concerns of most people. Just what is it that they are chasing after, and what are these persuits bringing?

        I don’t envy parents that have to send their children out into this world. Your wise not to send them out blind, but how to send them out strong would likely keep me awake most nights, if I were a parent.
        elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

        1. Well, I like that you visit and I also like that you share your views here.

          In the political rhetoric here in the States, I don’t see a high level of communal concern coming from the Right, so if it’s indeed a natural phase of human maturity, I fear that something has gone terribly wrong here.

          Fortunately, children grow to be surprisingly resilient, despite any errors parents make along the way. Undoubtedly, our parents held similar concerns.

          1. Maybe yours did. Mine didn’t. They both epitomize the “me” generation. Witnessing the after affects of all that, all this concern with “me, me me” seems to bring people a whole lot of nothing wrapped in crap.

            On the other hand, we’re all concerned with ourselves, first, and foremost. We have to be. When we’ve taken care of ourselves (properly), then we’re in a position to help others by teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish type of thing.

            So the “me first” thing is natural and healthy if you’re taking proper care of yourself. It’s when “me first” feels entitled to everything at the expense of everyone that it becomes a problem.

            I sympathise with both sides politically. I appreciate less government and more personal responsibility. But I also appreciate the idea of a community that takes care of it’s own. I wonder why these ideas have to be in conflict?
            elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

  2. I like writing that both makes me think and makes me laugh. You’ve done a fine job of both here. I laughed out loud at the liberal comment. I still have to practice being absolutely sincere and clear in all my communication so that I’m not aligning my thoughts with someone else just to be agreeable and not make waves. I am learning to speak out clearly and decisively. This is no time for waffling. My mainstay for helping me, reminding me, are The Four Agreements. “Be impeccable with your word.” That’s a pretty clear directive and makes all the difference.

    An enjoyable post with good food for thought. Thanks.

    1. Hi Teresa,

      Thanks for mentioning the laugh. Sometimes I write something that cracks me up and I can’t always tell if I’m the only one laughing!

      We’re all human, so I understand those situations where we don’t want to make waves, or we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but our faces often give us away.

      I looked up The Four Agreements because I hadn’t heard of it. It’s very highly rated on Amazon, so I may check it out. Thanks.

  3. I’ve been told to tone down my facial expressioin when I am: angry, shocked/surprised or frustrated. Even though I may be not that angry,etc.

    Some people over-react ..and I attribute to their family upbringing and how they were raised. I come from a direct family that tends to shoot straight from the hip for many things.

    So in the workplace I have learned to “soften” (hopefully) my reaction.

    1. Hi Jean,

      While you were being asked to tone down your facial expressions, I was being asked if I was okay. It seems that my normal expression is stoic, so it’s often construed as my being upset or miffed.

      The familial aspect is one that I hadn’t considered. Some families tend to be more expressive than others, so that probably plays a part in it. Even for people on the excitable side, if we know them, I think we can take that into consideration when detecting imbalances between what they are saying and how they are expressing it.

      At work, it’s probably a good idea to play things close to the vest.

  4. I’ve run the gamut from extremely animated to completely flatline, in terms of expression. I think my expression matches my words, but I’ve learned to be much more artful with words nevertheless. It’s curcial for survival out there. I find that leaving people with no doubt about where I stand really cuts down on the amount I’m forced to interact with people who may look to me as a way to get a leg up, as in, I make sure they don’t see me that way for long, while at the same time causing no offense. It’s a fine line and requires that I’m on the ball. I think the more you know who you are, the more effectively you can communicate to others who you are. I find this saves me much time and grief in life.
    elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

    1. Hi Elysia,

      Even though I wrote this post, I recognize the tendency in myself to keep a straight face, as if I was playing poker, a lot of the time. Like many people, I sometimes try to mask what I really want to say in social situations. I wrote a post about that a couple of years ago: Your Inside Voice

      I suppose that this sort of thing takes on more importance in situations where linking expression with words can hurt someone feelings, or cause a stir where there needn’t be one. Still, I think that it’s best to be straight with one another more often than not.

      1. For me, being straight is the name of the game. So my facial expression is still in line with my words, but I’m improving by leaps and bounds in terms of making myself felt, while sparing the other’s feelings at the same time.

        It goes back to remembering to ask myself what I really want from any given situation, then going with that.

        When people operate from reaction and reflex, they very often have either forgotton what they really want, or they don’t even know.

        Which brings me back to another blog entry of yours, in which you pondered the question of what you really want, and wondered if others wondered about what you really want.

        Remember you said you didn’t know yet?

        I know that I don’t want to create more obstacles between me and what I want, than already exist.

        Relationships are the most complicated things ever, lol.
        elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

  5. Hi Ray,

    Another great post. Although it makes me realize I live in a bubble. Being a stay at home mom doesn’t give me many opportunities to run into this type of thought process. On first read I thought, you know people who think this way! Most people in my bubble don’t.

    I like how you say that even though there is plenty of evidence supporting that the world is bad you still take care of your neighbors, whoever they may be. I’m thinking Biblically on that last part. I think people should be cautious in the world but always see the good in the world.

    I’m not very good at putting on a face. I am who I am. It feels too incongruent to pretend too long that I feel differently from what I am saying. In some social situations that’s a good thing and in others I need to practice my poker face!
    Tristan recently posted..The Post which shall remain NamelessMy Profile

    1. Hi Tristan,

      Thanks! You’re first read was correct. I do know people who think like that and I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with them, as you can imagine. Many like-minded individuals can also be found in the comment sections of political websites. I rarely participate in those “discussions” because they invariably morph into name-calling exercises.

      Biblical? Perhaps the Nuns were successful when they instilled their “love thy neighbor” messages during my schooling. 🙂

      Putting on a face does feel incongruent, and I’m not convinced that most of us can pull it off successfully when we try.

  6. The things we see and hear on the news are almost always about something terrible. But if it’s news, that must mean it’s unusual. When they stop reporting evil acts, then we’ll really be in trouble. I think we tend to forget that there are seven billion of us. It’s hard to imagine how many people that really is, but trying to do so might keep us from deciding that “the whole world is going crazy” every time a few individuals do something insane. Most people, I think, are interested in taking care of their families, earning enough to pay the bills, and helping each other whenever possible. We’re not out there looking for trouble.

    About facial expressions: I seem to be mostly unaware of mine. I was eating alone in a restaurant once, reading a book, and minding my own business. A waitress walked by my table and said, “Smile!” Had I been sitting there, by myself and smiling my fool head off for no reason, she likely would have thought me unstable and avoided me altogether. But very often, someone will tell me to smile when I thought I already was smiling. Maybe I have some unknown syndrome that causes me to feel detached from my own face. Is it that amygdala thing again?

    Great post, Ray.
    Charles Gulotta recently posted..Wondering What to Believe (Part 2)My Profile

    1. Thanks Charles,

      You have logic on your side when you assert that news is news because it’s unusual, but unusual is a broad category that can include the unusually generous, the unusually heroic, and so on. You’re right, I wouldn’t want the media to stop reporting evil acts either. Surely there must be room for some balance.

      “We’re not out there looking for trouble.” LOL No, we are not.

      I commented earlier that I must give off a similar vibe to what you’ve mentioned, where people take my “regular” expression as a signal that I’m upset. I’ve seen those people who look unusually happy all of the time, smiling broadly — for no good reason! Unstable does come to mind when I see them, but I also wonder if I’m missing something.

      Facial detachment syndrome sounds serious. Maybe some university will do a study on that one someday.

  7. I’m a taciturn individual and though blogging has made me more communicative, paradoxically, I am less open to engaging in small talk now than I was previously. I’m not by any means shy and I don’t censor my body language or facial expressions. However, like Jean I come from an expressive family and when in the workplace I learned to ‘tone-it-down’.

    The simple ideas Don Miguel Ruiz summarizes in his ‘The Four Agreements’ provide an inspirational code for life; a personal development model, and a template for personal development, behavior, communications and relationships.
    Agreement 1 – Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
    Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
    Agreement 3 – Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
    Agreement 4 – Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

    When I read this book in the late 1990’s I recognized that those four agreements were enshrined the way I was raised and in the way I choose to live my life. One major shift I have made over these last 6 years it to detach from those who aren’t comfortable with companionable silence. I have learned how to turn up the volume on what their faces and bodies are communicating to me and mute what their mouths are broadcasting. The key to clarity in communication is to recognize that the eyes say it all.
    timethief recently posted..Clinging to the Rock or Swimming?My Profile

    1. HI TT,

      I come from an expressive family too, especially my Mom, who revels in her audible storytelling, but somehow I went the other way. Reserved and often thought of as being shy as a child, I’ve opened up since then — but not much.

      I read a post today, by Ran that reminded me how venturing into vlogging helped me to be more outgoing and expressive in front of groups of people. The “Most Discussed” Gang

      On Saturday, Teresa directed me, via Email, to a post where she wrote of The Four Agreements, In the Living Room of the World. I thought about including them in the comments here, but you’ve taken care of that for me. Thank you.

      Your decision to focus on the faces and body language while muting words is very interesting. It seems like it would be a difficult thing to do. I pay attention to the eyes, but I do so in conjunction with what is being said. Perhaps this will become clearer to me once I’ve read the book.

  8. Ray – I think we have many faces and for all occasions. I may not always be OK putting on a face, sometimes I goes up without my awareness, perhaps a defense. Other times I wish I had left my honest self at home because she shows herself when I would rather wear a happy plastic face. That’s me. I however, am a huge reader of faces and body language. I can tell if a person is saying one thing with their words, but in their eyes and body language I see something else entirely. (why texting and instant messaging drives me crazy, much is lost). I think in general in social situations most keep their thoughts and emotions behind a facade. Given a blog or some armor, it’s another story altogether. Another fabulous post, Ray.
    Brenda recently posted..When You Wish Upon A StarMy Profile

    1. Hi Brenda,

      Thanks. Yes, there are instances where we may be unaware of the face we present, like a reflex, I guess. The funeral face even if we were not close to the deceased, the party face, because everyone expects us to be happy, and the work face that some other commenters have mentioned, where we are on our guard, are some examples.

      I used to feel the same way as you about texting, but the convenience and immediacy of it have outweighed any reluctance I had about using it in the past.

  9. Hi Ray!
    I love this! I am a face reader and know the feeling. I am the Susie Sunshine of my peers and try to see the good in everyone and things. I know that it is sometimes hard but that is just how I ride.
    Love the sculptures. Remember the show “Lie to Me?” I loved learning about all the telltale signs of fake faces, especially the fake smile which is really contempt.
    Thanks for bringing it to the party!
    Have fun clicking on the other links and saying hello!

    1. Hi Susie,

      Thanks! It is interesting to parse what we see against what we hear. I’m an upbeat guy, but not to the level of Susie Sunshine. Some of my friends are, so when I’m around them I find that it can be contagious. You’ve probably noticed that you have that affect on people.

      I was lucky to find those sculptures after writing the post. They fit in perfectly. I’ve only seen a couple of “Lie to Me” episodes.

      I’ll check out some more of your reader’s blogs. I like your “Use Me and Abuse Me Day” idea, and not just because of the fun title. 🙂

  10. You know, you’re absolutely right…it always comes back to free will and choices, doesn’t it? It’s easy to let other people control your reactions…much harder to own your own behavior and make the conscious choice not to allow yourself to become cynical and embittered. Thanks for posting this on Susie’s blog!
    Kitt Crescendo recently posted..Smoke And MirrorsMy Profile

    1. Hi Kitt,

      It certainly does come down to that. We can’t control any of what happens externally, so our only recourse is in deciding how we react. Like a lot of people, my immediate reaction may be of the knee-jerk variety — huffing and puffing like a mad man, but it doesn’t last. I can’t allow short-term emotions to cloud my better judgement. If I did, the cynicism that you mentioned would surly be the undesirable outcome.

  11. Wow, the look of derision was a little too close to home. You must know my dad. To give him credit, he still has a head of hair, but the rest is right on the money. Nice post! I believe too. Also, I’m stopping by from Susie’s bash.
    Marry Me Knot recently posted..Resolutions ResolvedMy Profile

    1. Hi Marry Me Knot,

      That’s priceless. I’m still laughing. The look of derision is my favorite one. I’ve seen it many times in real life.

      “Hello Marry Me Knot’s dad.” *waves from a safe distance*

      Thanks for stopping by and delivering the giggles.

  12. Hey Ray – I got here via Susie and had to laugh… I’m not sure what face I am, but it is always smiling at least that’s what my students tell me. I teach 7th grade and always try to keep a smile on my face even when I don’t think anything is funny! But teaching 7th grade is a hoot, those kids do the darnedest things! Were you tired, errrr fed up with political ads when you wrote this? I saw several of those faces – many of ’em lying to my face or at least the cameras! Thanks! Keep making your days count!

    1. Hi Clay,

      If “always smiling” describes you, then I’d say that you’re probably doing something right.

      Year’s ago, I considered teaching. I’ve had experience with tutoring as a volunteer and preparing and giving presentations at work, so I applied in New York. I was accepted into a teaching program that would have paid for graduate school as well, but the salary was just too low to support a family. I suspect that it was designed to attract students right out of college, where the salary may have been appropriate. Sometimes, I wish that it could have worked out.

      It wasn’t so much the political ads (although they were nauseating) that prompted this post; it was the political “discussions” with my colleagues — a reoccurring debate of one against many in terms of political ideologies.

  13. Hey I saw you at Susie’s party and thought I would check you out. I love that Alec Baldwin line. Very cool! I hadn’t heard it before. Ha! Good one. And you are absolutely right about people’s facial expressions clearly not resembling what they really mean … and you’re right that song “Smiling Faces Sometimes” goes perfect with this post!
    TheGuat recently posted..A Little Encouragement …My Profile

    1. Hi TheGuat,

      I can’t get enough of that show, especially Baldwin’s character.

      In some circumstances, the duplicity may add some suspense and make a situation interesting, but most of the time, I think that it just gets in the way.

      I really like that song and I was glad to have found a video with a live performance. It’s better than the ones that are posted to YouTube with just a spinning record.

    1. Hi Phil,

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s been a bit overwhelming to try to keep up with all of the blogs listed in Susie’s comments. Lots of good reading.

      The question is: are you the deliverer or the recipient of the those looks of confusion and derision? 🙂

      Happy New Year to you!

  14. Ran across this while trolling, and it made me laugh. It reminded me of a couple of days ago when I saw my mug in a mirror after a long day of air travel. It was a shock! Is that me? That’s not how I feel! Decided not to say much, but went to bed as soon as possible.

    Body language and facial expressions are a science in themselves, and fascinating. Cheers —

    1. Hi Julia, It seems I’ve missed a few comments during my hiatus. 🙂 I’m glad that you trolled your way to this post — it’s one of my favorites. I haven’t traveled recently, but back when I did, I can recall the mug that you’re talking about. My trip to Seoul especially. That was a long flight.

Leave a Reply

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

CommentLuv badge