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Entire body can’t lie

After Sir Charles Darwin, detecting and decoding facial expressions dominates nonverbal studies and analysis. There are different software applications dedicated to facial expression encoding, including the one you might have installed on your smart phone. However, on evolutionary time-scale, development of facial muscles and expressions of different emotions through their movements are recent additions to human nonverbal communication. Also, with help of sophisticated brain, we’ve gained mastery in hiding, suppressing, modulating or manipulating facial expressions of emotions and feelings.

Our faces can lie but entire body can’t. Don’t you believe in this? Let me share with you an incident and my investigation about same based upon body language clues which would definitely shatter your faith in relying entirely on facial expressions during interactions.

In last week, my wife and I took a public transport bus for Pune. It was past midnight when we took the bus. Three persons, two adult men and a young lady, took the bus along with us. It was having one column of 2 seater couches and another 3 seater couches placed in multiple rows. Two columns were separated by a narrow walk-through passage. It was carrying passengers almost half of its normal seating capacity so most of them were sleeping by stretching their legs on couches covering all adjacent seats. My wife and I found two empty adjacent seats for us at the front side of bus. Soon after we took our seats and relaxed, the bus took off from station.

The young lady managed to find a seat on a 2 seater couch just three rows ahead of us. An adult passenger came right behind her hurriedly and managed to find a seat on a 3 seater couch. Having enough space between him and the lady, he could observe her clearly from his place. He tried to start a conversation with her by asking few trivial questions but the lady didn’t respond him at all. After some time, the lady relaxed in her seat and the man left his seat and found an empty 3 seater couch at the back of the bus. He stretched his legs on the long couch and fell asleep or it at least appeared as if he fell asleep.

People are more vulnerable during dark hours.
I told my wife about what had just happened as she was busy in preparing to fall asleep. After some time, my wife fell asleep and I started thinking about the way the adult man was looking at the lady despite of her lack of attention towards him. He was running his eyes on her from tip to toe repeatedly with blank face as if he was measuring her. His trivial questions which he could have asked to bus conductor, driver or other passengers were actually intended to get the lady’s attention. She definitely might have sensed his true intentions and turned down his moves to get close to her.

As part of procedures, bus conductor asked bus driver to switch of the light so that passengers could fall asleep for next few hours. Soon after the man went at back of the bus, I too fell asleep. After 3 hours, I suddenly woke up and found what I was not expecting at all. The adult man was seating at the place where the lady was seating before lights were switched off. The man was appearing restless and disturbed in his seat. She had disappeared from area in front of us in the bus. Where she might have gone? Did she go off from the bus at some place? So many horrifying thoughts came into my mind so I asked my wife to wake up and shared what happened.

Out of social responsibility, I checked if the lady was still riding the bus or got off somewhere. When I turned my sight at the back of my bus through the narrow passage, I found her seating at the same place where the adult man found a couch to sleep before lights were switched off. As it clearly appeared, both of them had swapped their places. What might have led them to switch their places? As I’m looking at him from behind, the man was nervous and disturbed. On the other hand, the lady appeared completely relieved and confident. Their bodies were conveying entirely opposite states of mind. Something might have gone wrong. What it could possibly be, after all?

Let’s go back in time briefly and check history of their bus journey. The man had seen her getting while catching the bus. Both of them were complete strangers for each other. The lady was traveling alone but she was cautious about her safety. The man gave many lustful giveaways through his gaze and body orientation. By asking trivial questions, he tried to gain her attention but she wisely turned down same. After 3 hours, there ended up switching their places. Surprisingly, the man was restless and the lady was relaxed. Are you getting it? What clues their bodies where giving? Wise readers might definitely have figured it out by now.

Opportunists consider a lonely woman as an easy target.
Undoubtedly, if the lady would have paid him enough attention and engaged in conversation with him (or in other words - “got into his trap”), he would definitely have dared to seat close to her in same couch. She refuted his attempt by sensing his true intentions. When all passengers fell asleep, the man might have managed to get close to her, talk with her and touch her in wrong way. Being aware about his intentions, she might have gathered her courage in no time. Finally, she got away from him at a safer place where he wouldn’t dare to reach her. With no other place left to seat, the wrongdoer sank in her seat. Bus driver and bus conductor would have sensed his wrongdoing and might have warned him off.

Even their faces wasn’t at all giving any clear clues, their bodies were talking loudly to my eyes as they would have to eyes of any keen observer and situationally aware individual. The way he followed her inside the bus and sat close to her, initial verbal interaction between them, his lustful & darting eyes on her, her wisely turning him down and above all - swapping each other’s seats at the end was enough to suggest what exactly might have happened between them to do so in the public transport bus which was traveling at night and filled with passengers who had fallen asleep excluding bus driver. The lady wasn’t stupid to approach the same man, who was measuring her lustfully, for requesting him to swap the seats in darkness.

Right from a single celled microbe to multi-cellular and large creatures, entire bodies give so many different kinds of clues that we can hardly image about. Faces might, can or do lie but other parts of our bodies simply can’t or don’t. Other body parts convey entirely different message than what face is trying to express consciously or unconsciously. Physical space, body positioning, posture, orientation of face & torso, gaze, shoulders, legs, hands and fingers talk louder even in steady state let alone movements, expressions and gestures made by them.

Are we still not looking at the whole picture?
Many good observers, social analysts, interviewers, detectives, investigators and even interrogators emphasize on facial clues but underrate, ignore, overlook or don’t pay conscious attention at what rest of the body of an individuals is giving away unconsciously. Whole body nonverbal decoding could solve many problems in our daily social lives including attacks, exploitation and crimes. So many puzzling questions related with incidents can be solved by whole body approach only because entire body simply can’t lie.

[Important Note: This article was written with sole purpose of bringing mass social awareness about women’s safety, security and dignity in face of growing incidents of teasing, harassment, exploitation and coercion in public transport vehicles. I
kindly request you share this article. #metoo]

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