Open mouth smile :: Smile4dairy

Open mouth smile

Most social data and behavior is learned, not innate. Infants are largely non-social creatures, by which I mean they simply emote, without a thought to what message they're sending to others or how they appear. Sometime around two, kids become politicians.

I used to work with two-year-olds, and it was amazing to watch. At the beginning of the year, the youngest twos would mostly play by themselves. Even if four of them were in a sandbox together, each was basically in his own world. They were aware of each-other, of course, but to kid A, kid B was simply an obstacle or an interesting object - not another person. These children didn't yet have a well-developed Theory of Mind.

But they gained one over the course of the year. It was thrilling to see them reach out and, for the first time in their lives, befriend other children. As heartwarming as that was, it came with a tradeoff: social self-awareness. Self-consciousness. While it's not intense at two, this force eventually leads to "If I smile like that, I look goofy!" As we all know, that feeling intensifies in adolescence, when we become hyper-sensitive to the views of our peers.

By the time we reach adulthood, we're expert politicians. It doesn't bother us any more to suppress our expressions. These suppressions become so habituals, they don't even feel like suppressions. We simply don't have an urge to open our mouths wide with joy.

It's interesting to watch mentally-challenged adults. Some of them never learn politics or self-consciousness. You will see these huge, child-like expressions of joy bloom on their faces. And, of course, you see the same thing in some neuro-typical adults when they've consumed a quantity of alcohol. Famously, alcohol blunts inhibitions. What inhibitions are those? They're the layers of social clothing we've wrapped ourselves in since about we turned two.

To most adults, it is intolerable to emote like a child and equally intolerable to to go for years without any raw expression of emotion. I'm not a Freudian, but I think we has onto something with the superego and the id. They're at war. To a great extent, what we call "culture" is our (imperfect) solution: it's our uneasy peace between order and chaos. Culture produces both this ...

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