Face, the facts

Face, the facts

by Cuthbert Chong


Winning speech for BVTMC Chapter Meeting on Thursday, 04 Jul 2019

Competent Communicator Manual, P7: Research Your Topic

Imagine, arriving home early tomorrow evening, you’ve managed to take a short break, refreshed yourself and your wife, husband, or loved one, arrives home. You walk up to them as they enter the doorway. As the door closes behind them, you give them a gentle hug, and peck them on their forehead, (provided you’re tall enough) … You gaze into their eyes… however, you find their eyes are wandering off elsewhere. Never really meeting yours.

A sense of…. Discomfort wells from within you, you try to ignore it, but unconsciously, you ask “How was your day?”. “Huh? Yea, it’s fine, it was okay”. “What are you thinking about?”, “Hmm? Nothing” Ohh nonono… you knew, you know there is always something.

Ladies and Gentlemen, how many of you have been in this scenario before, whichever side you’re on?

According to Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence, humans are apex social creatures, and I believe everyone here is familiar with the importance of communication and social contact, we’re toastmasters right? But besides that, Goleman’s works also revealed a much more intricate design in how our social abilities work.

In everyday life, we collect tonnes and tonnes of information from our senses from the outside world. All this information takes two paths to reach our brain. The first path, an almost direct link, passes through the thalamus to the amygdala, which plays a vital role in our memory creation and emotional response. This is known as the low road. The second path, called, high road however, takes a longer merry go round, through the visual cortex, the temporal cortex, jumps through a bunch of obstacles and hoolah hoops, and is also why men take 5 seconds to go “sorry honey, are you angry”?

In contrast, the low road works in the blink of an eye, without our own awareness, and doesn’t need the whole picture before going “This is bad”. The low road, is the tingling sensation when you see the bikini girl at the beach; the smile that you unknowingly put on your face when a child smiles at you; but also, the pang of pain when your loved one fails to meet your gaze. So, what exactly is happening?

In 1967, renowned psychologist Paul Ekman, studied patients who claimed they were not depressed, but later on committed suicide. Ekman reviewed slow motion footage of the interview with patients, and he discovered that even though the patients looked calm and happy, when posed questions about their future, such as “What will you do when you get home?”, the patients face flashed an extremely brief moment of depression or doubt. Ekman called these leaks of emotion “microexpressions”.

All of us, whether we realize or not, display microexpression. However, Ekman’s studies also revealed that only 1 in every 400 people can consciously decipher them. Microexpressions are low road signals,  which call for a low road sensor. And fortunately, we are all equipped with this emotional radar, refined from millennia of evolution. But there is one condition for this to work. Visual Contact. If we cannot see their faces, we cannot receive the signals they are sending.

Today’s world is abundant with anti-social media allowing us to “connect” to people from afar, without even being with them, just by peering into a device with pictures and symbols on it. Without the face to face, eye to eye interaction, we are deprived of the largest source of information on how another person is doing, what another person is feeling. People can only say so much, but if we aren’t looking up or paying attention, all that is expressed falls on blind eyes.

A survey by Social Science & Medicine Journal states that, among the many things in this world, the single most agreed upon feature of a good life, is having nourishing relationships. When the day comes where we’re lying on our deathbed, I’m sure none of you would look back and say, “Damn I wish I’d spent more time on Facebook.”

Tomorrow onwards when you get home, to your family, your loved ones, or even your dog or cat, take the time to look them in the eyes, and give them your undivided attention. Only through these bare, subconscious, ephemeral connections, will we be able to experience intimacy in our relationships beyond what words can express.


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