As a species we really overvalue our ability to read what other humans are feeling. This comes to mind every time we hear of another tragic suicide of a public figure. A common reaction is ‘but he always seemed to so happy’. How can you say that every single time and still think you are able to tell if someone is happy or not? At what point do you start to lose faith in your own ability to tell?
The same happens with news reports in the neighbourhood of a murderer. You get one of two things. It’s either a neighbour saying ‘he always seemed like such a nice man’ which basically means ‘he smiled at me once’. You never hear ‘Oh yeah. That totally makes sense. He seemed a bit of a murderer’.
We should not trust our own ability to read others quite so well. People who pride themselves on their amazing ability to read others are quite often the worst at it.
How many people have felt calm or even approaching a zen like chill state when someone has come and asked you ‘what’s wrong’ or ‘you seem sad!’. It really kills whatever zen like state you may or may not have been approaching. If I really was sad or angry or confused I would either be hiding entirely or hiding my emotional state while I processed it. I’d love to say I wear my heart on my sleeve at all time but that’s just not true.
Let’s go the other way entirely. If someone seems happy I have now decided they must be attempting to hide a deep sadness. If they appear sad then they must be joy personified. I’ll be still be wrong almost all of the time but no more or less.