As Jim Morrison once crooned, people are strange. There have been times when I have found it easier to understand Thermodynamics (and I had failed it in my first attempt), but have not been able to understand people, and how or why they could do what they did.

I remember one of my job interviews in which I was asked which according to me would be my most important resource at work. I took a moment to think and said that people would be my most important resource. When asked to explain why I thought so, I said that I could be face with a simple task but if my team mates didn’t come through, it would be extremely difficult and frustrating. On the other hand, if I had an extremely difficult task, the struggle and pain would be reduced on account of the help and guidance from the team. My opinion on this still holds true, however I have experienced more of the former scenario than the latter.

As much as people’s motives are interesting to think about and understand, it is their faces that sometimes give things away. You can mask your motives and thoughts and once can’t ‘read your mind’, but can observe/notice your face and its expressions. One passage from Fountainhead gets it right. It is a conversation between Ellsworth Toohey and Kiki Halcombe, when Kiki has a party at her home.

“There’s nothing as significant as a human face. Nor as eloquent. We can never really know another person, except by our first glance at him. Because, in that glance, we know everything. Even though we’re not always wise enough to unravel the knowledge. Have you ever thought about the style of a soul, Kiki?”
“The … what?”
“The style of the soul. Do you remember the famous philosopher who spoke of the style of a civilization? He called it ‘style.’ He said it was the nearest word he could find for it. He said that every civilization has its one basic principle, one single, supreme, determining conception, and every endeavor of men within that civilization is true, unconsciously and irrevocably, to that one principle…. I think, Kiki, that every human soul has a style of its own, also. Its one basic theme. You’ll see it reflected in every thought, every act, every wish of that person. The one absolute, the one imperative in that living creature. Years of studying a man won’t show it to you. His face will. You’d have to write volumes to describe a person. Think of his face. You need nothing else.”
“That sounds fantastic, Ellsworth. And unfair, if true. It would leave people naked before you.”
“It’s worse than that. It also leaves you naked before them. You betray yourself by the manner in which you react to a certain face.”

Before reading this book, I had seen a video of Marina Abramović and Ulay. Marina and Ulay are performance artists who had been in a relationship before calling it off. Later when the relationship became too tense to continue, they took a journey to the Great Wall of China in 1988. They decided that both of them would start from the opposite ends, and would meet at the midway. It was there they would bid goodbye after having walked about 2500 Kms.

Marina put up a performance titled ‘The artist is present’ in 2010, where she would spend one moment with the people who would walk in. She would close her eyes, and wait for the person to take their seat across the table and then open her eyes and share a moment of silence with them. This is a video of the reaction she had when Ulay happened to sit across the table, and she opened her eyes.


Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words -2, Day 6 Prompt: People

12 thoughts on “The reaction to a face

  1. The video is so beautiful. watched it twice. they conversed thru their eyes and words were just not needed.

    A very nice write-up Santulan.

    1. Same here, Bhavs I can so empathaise… but yes, the initial reactions on the face are the true reactions.. or if people keep a straight face, their eyes give away their true feelings or they body.. lovely thoughts and a lovely video… Bawa.. goes down as one of my fav ones from you, this one and the one on the librarian at school..

  2. I really loved your take on People. Its the first time I have see that video and it is touching to see her so vulnerable…That there was a bubble in which she sat with Ulay.

    I have to be very careful in company because I am very easy amused(and equally easily disgusted) and my mouth will curve upward or downward of its own accord without my explicit orders, wish I could mask it.

  3. Unlike others I have not watched this video neither heard about it… Hrishi it was something else. I had tears in my eyes. And of course you chose the best book and probably one of the best lines to quote. People have a theme and it is seen in everything they do… wow you have given me such a kick I feel like going and writing a post all that I am feeling based on your post… Lovely..


  4. It would leave people naked before you.”–Lovely lines. great take on the prompt about people and I feel team work coupled with positive energy makes an organization successful:)

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