Archive for November, 2009

Prolonged Eye Contact (The Death Stare): Are We Still Baboons?

November 22nd, 2009 No comments

Sometimes, in the landscape of our social environment, we encounter people who give us prolonged eye contact that may leave us feeling threatened. This kind of eye contact tends to arrive in our eyes by way of deadly glares or piercing gazes. Any way you cut the cake, these kinds of looks can be chalked up as ‘death stares’. In the animal kingdom this kind of eye contact behavior is quite normal. Silverback gorillas cast their steely eyed stares toward other gorillas as a territorial warning sign (i.e. – stay off our tribal turf or be prepared to incur the wrath of Kong). Flaring of the teeth is also a very common signal to protect territory (seen often in screeching baboons), but we will not be focusing much more attention on high-pitched screams and teeth-flashing behavior. Instead, let us restate that the animal kingdom and many of its creatures within have a strong tendency to demonstrate prolonged eye contact when it comes to the protection of territory, mates, and offspring.

            How does our animal kingdom eye contact discussion translate into human importance, especially in terms of the social scene and person-to-person understandings? To answer such a question we must first assert that we are not gorillas or chimpanzees – no longer is it permissible to interact with one another like we are enraged and ill-tempered baboons. Or is it permissible? Do we still not act with hotheadedness and irrationality – like the baboons? Of course we do. We are humans and hence have emotional systems and survival instincts that navigate us through our environment no matter who is present, just like the baboons.

            If you sit down in a circle of 10 people (including yourself) and casually shift your eyes around, you may notice that one of the 9 group members is giving you what appears to be the death stare – prolonged eye contact that sends a message that may be perceived as threatening. If you feel as if the death stare or piercing glare is being shot in your direction, it is important to ask yourself why. For example, “why am I being looked at in this manner”? Sometimes the answer is as simple as the fact that you have been looking at the wrong guy’s girlfriend or significant other. Other times, the answer is much less clear and you may never arrive at a suitable answer or conclusion. Some individuals may make prolonged threatening eye contact because it is their natural social tendency. There is rarely a clear-cut answer or reason for this kind of prolonged eye contact. Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up in the air and say “you know what, I have no idea why this person is looking at me like this”. In trying to understand every look and every gesture, a person would successfully drive their self up the wall.

            Nevertheless, there is often a reason as to why a person continues to make prolonged threatening eye contact with another person. On occasion, a look of death can have no meaning or be misinterpreted. From time to time, a person may be intensely fixated on a thought and just happen to be looking in your direction. More often than not though, an interpreted death stare from another person has a very logical reason behind it. Usually, there are 2 very poignant reasons; (i) competition that revolves around mate selection and acquisition, and (ii) competition to achieve the status of alpha female or alpha male. These two reasons alone have a tremendous natural pull in the animal kingdom (as humans, we exist in this kingdom).

            Always remember, death stares, stare downs, or looks or death can be misperceived and misinterpreted by any individual as a threat. Use the perceptual strengths of your mind to determine whether or not someone else is attempting to encroach on your existence through the glare of their eyes. If the message of threat is perceived to be real and you are forced into a corner, act accordingly – act like an animal. If, on the other hand, the message is unclear and your instincts tell you the environment is safe, pass the threatening look over and attribute it to an over-consumption of caffeine or nicotine on part of the other person. Let’s do our best to not imitate the agitated and loudly offensive actions of baboons. The social environment is supposed to be a relatively pleasurable one.

Have you encountered another human being that reminds you of a screeching baboon? Scan your environment, the baboon is there, waiting to give you the death stare.

We are animals,

Matthew Polkinghorne

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The ‘Sluggish Sloucher’: Postural Styles That May Indicate Arrogance

November 2nd, 2009 No comments

When we think of someone who is said to be sluggish, we also tend to think of someone who does not move very fast. For most of us who have taken a healthy and rejuvenating stroll in the greenness of nature, this belief can be verified by observing a slug slither along the side of rotted log in a very methodical and taxingly slow manner. A person may rather decide to watch paint dry than observe a creamy-brown creature leave a gooey and messy trail behind itself. By the same token, when we think of someone who slouches, we also tend to picture a person hunched down into the crevices of a sofa or sitting half-hearted in a dining room chair. Basically the ‘sluggish sloucher’ is someone who is a cross between a slug on a log and a couch potato.

            Now, let’s make some sense of this in relation to arrogant behavior. Let’s say that a person opens the front door of their home after a long day of work. They then proceed to walk toward the kitchen and put their wallet on the island in the center of the kitchen. While on their way there, the person notices their significant other despondently sitting in the crooks of the sofa. The partner who entered the home sees this rather despondent behavior and approaches their mate to initiate a conversation. All efforts to initiate a dialogue are met with bland and half-hearted ‘yeah’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘mmm-hmm’ and so on. The lackluster verbal responses are also accompanied by very minute downward lip movements at the corner of the mouth that say ‘yeah, whatever, O.K., so what, shut up, next, I’m bored’.

            After a few more attempts to initiate a lively dialogue, the disinterested mate sinks even lower into the sofa and depressingly rests one of the cheeks of their face on their fist – the look that says “look, I’ve been wallowing in self-pity for a few hours now and feelings of personal defeat have completely permeated throughout my entire being. I’d be better off in a box six feet under the ground nestled in soil with hungry worms.” Needless to say, in this example the spirited attempts made by the vigorous mate fell woefully short and were unsuccessful.

            Sometimes, when these kind of interactions happen between two or more people (whether they are mates or not), the messages that are being conveyed by the disengaged person can be interpreted in multiple ways. The interpretation that is important to us in this instance is that of and arrogant one. Someone who sluggishly slouches in their chair while conveying ‘leave me alone’ body language can easily project behavior that may be interpreted as arrogant by the receiver of the message(s). Often times, someone who is slouching on the sofa in front of the T.V. thinks they have it all figured out and have nothing to learn and would rather ingest hours of mindless garbage from the television set rather than having a respectful interaction with another human being.

            Usually these 2 behaviors (sluggishness and slouching) need to be seen together to indicate individual expressions of arrogance and a lack of respect. However, let’s not jump to any rash conclusions. These 2 behaviors can also indicate that a person is down in the dumps or down on their luck. Still though, paired together these 2 behaviors may often give way to an arrogant attitudinal style that is disinterested and dishearteningly disdainful by nature. Don’t over think this possible behavior, just consider it a possibility.

Have you ever met up with the arrogant style known as the sluggish sloucher?

Drop me a line if you find the time.

Matthew Polkinghorne

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