Monday, August 31, 2009

Kirkegaard Suggests that You Smile

It was Soren Kirkegaard who said, Our lives always express the result of our dominant thoughts. Not generally remembered as a woo-woo, out there kind of guy, he nonetheless anticipated contemporary pop psych notions of manifestation and the laws of attraction.

Is Kirkegaard's prescription really so different from creating a sound moral compass and letting it guide you throughout your life?

His statement describes an orientation of awareness toward the result of each choice you make. In that sense, it is being present with the simultaneity of eternity: what you do now will look like this (exhibit 'a') tomorrow, and like this (exhibit 'b') a year from now. The shell that encases choice is responsibility, and it surrounds every decision you make now and will ever make. That is the mechanism behind Kirkegaard's observation that our lives express the result of our dominant thoughts.

I once heard an older person (who could have been 45) say that when you're young you have the face you were born with, but when you're older you have the face you deserve.

Because I was a child who habitually took things off to the cave for more thorough examination later, I rolled this around in my mind for years before I understood what it meant. How could it be that the very structure of your face could reflect your life's decisions, everything you've ever done or thought? I didn't understand how skin and musculature work, for one thing.

I didn't understand, for example, that a perpetual scowl brought on by cynicism and distrust would eventually demonstrate before you even uttered a word that you were cynical and distrustful.

I didn't understand how pursing your lips in disgust would eventually incise lines radiating outward that made your mouth look drawn so tight that nothing kind could ever slip out.

I didn't understand how squinting your eyes in perpetual chagrin and impatience would eventually make you appear to be straining just to see what lies directly in front of you.

Look around. You can tell at a glance whose company you are likely to enjoy and whose you would more likely avoid, given the choice.

Is this prejudice?

Prejudice is using your own criteria, internally derived, to judge another person. But when you look at someone's face, you are reading what is there, not writing it. You are reading it and saying: I don't have to get to the last page of this book to know how this story ends.

And if you doubt the possibility that this might be true, why do you think you smile back when someone smiles at you?

Photography: Albrect Durer, Portrait of an Unknown Man, 1524. Museo del Prado; Mother Teresa; Scowl, The Karma Report web site; Selection from Kirkegaard manuscript, Philosophical Fragments

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