On the Merits (or lack thereof) of a Very Angry Face

Allow me to tell you a story, and let me note that it is a true one.

Today was not the greatest day in the world at work (and I say that not to mean that it was particularly awful, but to simply point out that I have had better ones), and I was eager as ever to get home. As I was walking down the little roadway path thing from the building I work in to the stairs that would take me out of the yard, I approached a man who was walking in the opposite direction, though on the same side of the road as I was (my right, his left). As you may know if you have read other entries on this blog, I have rather strong opinions on that, so to avoid him I moved further to the right, rather than going to my left to give him a wide berth. As we approached one another, it became clear that he had no real intention of moving to his right, so my options were a) move to my left b) move further to the right and thus step off the road way and into the rocks and gravel, or c) go straight ahead and brace for shoulder impact.

Being in no mood to swallow my pride or forfeit my rights to the road, I chose c, and shoulder impact we did. As we both continued on our way, he said some threatening and vulgar things, though I’m not entirely sure what, and I simply made a semi-loud “hmph” sound, though I doubt he actually heard it. And as I walked away, I was pleased with myself; envigorated even. I had stood my ground, and if the jerk wanted a fight I was willing to give him one. I have no idea who he was or whether he worked for Amtrak or one of the many contractor companies, but it didn’t really matter to me.

As I walked further away I dared to look back at him, now barely visible in the dim and and overcast, and I started to think about what had just happened, and the choices I made. And I started to think about the man’s face, so contorted with resentment and bitterness, the face of the kind of man looking for a reason to let out all his misplaced aggression on whoever dared to push his buttons.

It was the exact same face I had.

It came as a bit of a shock. Regardless of whatever “rules of the road” I insist on, I was not in any way more justified or in the right than he was. I had done nothing to avert our little collision, and though I didn’t say anything, I had just as much contempt for him as he had for me. And if either of us were just a little more angry, a little less patient, we could have had a fight right then and there. We could have been those guys who flip out and just attack a stranger for no damn reason.

What kind of person does that? An angry, selfish, uncaring person. The kind of person who makes angry faces, glaring and snarling at everyone he sees, daring them to get in his way. The kind of face I make all the time. But the truth is, as much as I sometimes relish the opportunity to just give up control, I really don’t want to be that person. Despite what all the movies and games tell guys my age, there is nothing glorious, honorable, or manly about being an angry thug who uses intimidation and force to get what he wants. But that’s exactly what I try to do when I scowl at the world (though I doubt it’s half as effective as I want it to be).

So as I walked down the stairs into the subway station, I tried something. I tried to intentionally make sure my face was doing anything but look angry. I stared wide eyed, as if surprised. I whistled and hummed a bit. I think I even sort of smiled here and there. I don’t know whether it was my face or my epiphany, but my sour mood was completely broken in moments, and for the rest of my way home, and even as I write this, I have felt better than I did all day.

So I can’t say for sure that happy or goofy faces have much in the way of merit, but I can say that there is no merit at all in an angry face.

Unless you’re trying to scare off a puma or something. Maybe then it’s okay.

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