Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Some years ago, a photographer tried a fascinating experiment where s/he would have a model stand at the edge of a mirror positioned right at their nose, so their face was perfectly symmetrical. In other words, instead of seeing the natural face, it would be a face of just the left side, or just the right side that appeared. Honestly, I have no idea why nobody has created this as a filter for photos, because the results were just fascinating.
As it turns out, in this experiment, the face that resulted frequently looked entirely different than the original face. We all seem to have one side of our face that looks kindly and friendly, while the other looks angrier and threatening. The differences are subtle enough that we tend not to notice the differences when we look at somebody, but we certainly have the choice of seeing somebody as either sullen and angry or as happy and friendly depending on the features on which we focus.
I guess it’s not really a surprise. We all have personalities that also show two different versions of ourselves. Billy Joel sang about these two sides to our personalities in his song “The Stranger”, and he was absolutely correct. There are triggers that we all have that can bring out the worst in us, even if we try very hard to be our best.
Heck, I used to use this dark side, which was largely influenced by my father. Dad had extreme anger issues, and although he never was physically abusive to us, he knew how to yell, how to be frightening, and he spoke fluent swearese during these outbursts. His anger was probably more frightening than physical violence could have been, and more difficult to address. If he had broken my arm or used my body as an ashtray, at least there would be physical evidence of the abuse. It’s harder to convince somebody that you’ve been abused because “dad yelled at me”. His abuse went much deeper than that, but if I explained it, it wouldn’t sound so bad. The fact is that the abuse was not any individual behavior, but the campaign of abuses that I lived with that ultimately made me feel unwelcome, unsafe, and without value or capabilities.
And I learned this behavior. It’s very much inside of me, and the only way I can keep it in check is with constant and conscious effort. I needed to decide that I did not want to be like that, and for the most part, I am successful at keeping it buried. But, I have to admit, when I taught, I would draw on it occasionally.
It was an interesting thing when I had a student challenge my authority. In fact, I even had one student threaten physical violence if he didn’t get the grade he wanted. A rather large man, no doubt he could have beaten me down, but there I stood, bringing out my father’s anger, and standing toe to toe with him, staring him down until he backed off.
These dark sides of our personalities are not always bad. We can draw on them when needed, provided we can keep them in check when they’re not appropriate. That, of course, is the difficult part, but there are times that it’s important, sadly, to show that anger, the stubbornness, the dark side of our personality if only to avoid being walked on and mistreated. On occasion, we have to stand up and say, in no uncertain terms, that is simply not appropriate, either when we are being harassed, treated unfairly by a store or vendor, or, sadly, even to those we love.
Perhaps the most upsetting times to show this evil face is to those that should not need it. Being abused, betrayed or mistreated by a loved on is the most difficult and hurtful thing that can happen, but yes, sometimes we have to show that dark side to our own family members or friends. My father’s problem was that he showed it far too often, and in situations where frankly it was unwarranted. Just spilling the milk at the dinner table would incur his wrath. Honestly, when I was young and still clumsy, I would be afraid to even sit and eat at the dinner table lest I do something to make a noise he didn’t like, or spill something.
Celebrate your dark side. I have it, and usually can control it (I isolate myself when it’s raging and out of control). It’s a powerful tool, and it shows on your face. But let your love out more often. Let the world see the soft part of your face. Trust me, if you do, you’ll live a happier life.