Just Google “politicians lying body language”, and you will come up with a plethora of “expert” articles that tell you open palms mean sincerity, but open palms from a politician mean he’s pretending to be sincere, but Al Gore’s open palms are real, or all politicians lie. There are threads on why Mitt Romney’s arms hang by his sides (is he humble, is it his Mormon background, is he a robot?) and how Obama always looks down his nose (staring at the teleprompter? defiant little boy? astigmatism in his eyes?)
Recently Smithsonian Magazine reported on the phenomenon of how the brain interprets visual information. We see what we are looking for. In a popular YouTube video, viewers were asked to count the number of times a ball was passed. People were so involved in counting the balls, they never saw a woman in a gorilla suit dance across the court. In the same way, we can see arrogance instead of determination in the tilt of a chin, humility or emptiness in silent hands. Every smile, every gesture can be interpreted as genuine or fake, truth or lie, depending on a person’s perception and bias.
So why study body language? The real value is in learning to understand your own eloquence. Not only can you learn what your habitual postures, gestures and reactions are, you can discover something even deeper, their relationship to your emotional life. As you watch the candidates, what are you experiencing? What happens to your breath as your indignation rises? Can you sense your jaw as you agree or disagree with the candidate? Even more importantly, how does your body language inflame or calm heated political conversations around the dinner table? As you watch the candidates, are you really seeing them for who they are, or are you missing the dancing gorilla?
Here’s an exercise to try next time you are in a political discussion. See if you can notice how the other person is breathing. Easy, relaxed breaths? Shallow, rapid breaths? Is the breath invisible? How are you breathing? Now allow yourself to explore. What happens if your breath matches your conversation partner? What happens if you intentionally change your breathing pattern to something calm and easy? Does it change the way you listen? Does the other person change? Perhaps if we all “took a breath”, the truth would reveal itself.
The Feldenkrais Method is about creating choice, being able to see options. So remember, if you don’t vote, you lose your ability to choose. May the best person win.