Humans are the most communicative species on the planet (as far as we know). Though our communication is primarily through speech and writing, it is also done by gesture and facial expressions.
All human beings, regardless of culture, appear to have certain facial expressions and communication sounds with gestures in common. Tears, moans, whimpers, screams all mean the same everywhere.
We, as a species, have facial expressions that mean the same no matter where you are or what spoken language is used:
For examples... There are others and there are many variations, subtle and not so subtle, of all of these.
According to those who are supposed to know these things, we begin smiling just a few weeks after birth. But these smiles are reactions to non-specific stimuli rather than a means of communication ("I think it's just gas, honey"). It is only after about 3 months, when we begin to recognize people (mother, primarily), that the smile becomes a form of communicating something to a certain person. Direct communication. We cannot talk and tell them we are glad to see them but we can smile. And, the person invariably smiles in return. That is the very essence of communication, is it not?
As we mature, we learn there are many kinds of smiles. Each expresses something different; sometimes subtly different, sometimes wildly different.
What is a leer if not a smile with a specific intent? Wry smiles, crooked smiles, quick smiles, broad grins, evil grins, etc. Each expresses a different message but one which is easily interpreted by anyone, usually, whether they speak the same language or not.
And we can usually tell a fake smile. Though some are very good at smiling no matter what they are really feeling. Used car salesmen, for example. Or ex-girlfriends. We know the dancer in the chorus line has no cheer behind his or her smile. Nor does the skater. If you are close enough, you realize they are fixed, almost a grimace, which is what they often hide. They are for show.
We greet each other with smiles. We greet strangers with smiles, often, so they will see us as a non-threat. We gauge the smile we get in return, if any, to assess if they represent a danger to us.
If I may digress a bit here... I learned when I was 5 or 6 that to a monkey, a smile is not a friendly expression. It is a threat. I smiled at a small monkey and he attacked me. The lower animals generally bare their teeth only to express danger to an approaching animal. (Teeth are weapons) Only humans bare them to show friendliness. Well, maybe domesticated canines also. But I think that's because we've warped them psychologically. They even have the facial expression of guilt down pat. And cats have mastered the bored look... or maybe they really are.
Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin
[From Disney's Peter Pan]
So smile and the world smiles with you. Except maybe for monkeys. And crocodiles.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago