Michael Jackson & the power of body language

By March 13, 2013Writing about Writing

michael-jackson-20050820-63679Michael Jackson told us to dance, and I’m here to remind us.

This week in the CMWR’s Conversation and Culture we talked a lot about body language. What does it mean when Americans wink at you? Well, that depends. Are you talking with your professor about the specifics of research papers or being stared at by an overly happy stranger on the El? This is where our fascination usually lies: “how do I interpret other people’s body language?” It’s more exciting to imagine who’s flirting with us than perform a self-analysis of our posture. But wait, what if I told you it is fun to perform postural self-analysis. You guys, seriously.

We had watched a TED Talk, “Your body language shapes who you are,” by Amy Cuddy, to provoke conversation this week. Decades before her speech, Cuddy had been in a serious car accident; her vehicle rolled several times and she was thrown from the car, suffering serious head injuries. Her IQ dropped by two standard deviations and, for a person who found pride and identity in her intelligence, this was a life-changing blow to her confidence. So when she lucked into a teaching position at Princeton, she felt like a fraud, like she wasn’t worthy or smart enough to belong.

When I feel that way I tend to favor various interpretations of the fetal position. Cuddy however, is more experienced than I, and wisely realized that curling up in front of 20 presumably brilliant undergraduates wouldn’t do her any good. So she faked it. She adopted the body language of a confident person, first as a mask, but then as a reality. The essential message she imparts is that “our bodies change our minds…and our mind changes our behavior…and our behavior changes our outcomes.” It may seem ridiculous to consider doing a power stance alone in a bathroom stall, moments before an interview. But trust me, I tried it, and I’ve never felt more confident and alone in a bathroom stall.

This is valuable information: we can help ourselves feel generally confident and comfortable simply by leaning back in our chairs with our hands behind our heads. But what good is this to me and my C&C peeps on a Saturday? We have no job interviews, presentations, or any serious work ahead of us. That’s where Michael Jackson comes in.

As the King of Pop once said, “Let’s dance, let’s shout, I wholeheartedly support the CMWR’s promotion of multicultural dialogue.” I think we can all relate to that sentiment. Whether getting down, busting a move, or doing the dougie, dancing is a joyous experience. And yet, in America it seems common for people to be uncomfortable with shaking their limbs at non-standard angles. Let’s change that, let’s apply Ms. Cuddy’s logic to the dance floor. If we can fake it until we genuinely enjoy dancing, then we will have liberated ourselves into the funkiest and sweatiest solution ever to self-consciousness. Boom shocka-locka.