That’s what my mother used to say to me when I would look annoyed, or belligerent, or disbelieving, or pretty much anything that questioned her judgement. “Don’t give me that look!”
I actually got fired from my very first job because of that look. I had a Saturday job in a grocery store, back in the days when we marked the prices of goods in felt pen ink on the packages and cans. I remember that felt-tipped pens were relatively expensive because they were a recent invention. The manager of the store would count them back in at the end of each day.
One day, one of the pens was missing. The manager gathered all the staff in his small office and verbally assaulted us for stealing a pen. He went on and on about it, and I gave him the look. That did it. He completely lost his cool, accused me of having stolen the pen and of insubordination, and fired me on the spot.
As you might imagine, this did not please my mother. To her credit though, after she got over being mad at me for showing disdain on my face, she went over to the store and gave the manager a piece of her mind. She never went to that store again.
I don’t know where we learn those gestures as children, but we see a lot of them in school. Mean kids in school are masters of the put-down and, inevitably, those kids grow up to be adults. I learned to stop showing insolence on my face most of the time, but some people just keep on using the techniques they learned in their youth.
When one person rolls their eyes behind the back of another person, that small gesture says a lot of things and none of them is good. It says “I don’t believe you,” or “You are making a fuss about nothing,” or “You have already told us this several times,” or “You are stupid.” And, the message is being delivered not to its subject but to everyone else who is nearby.
As bad as those unspoken statements are, they are not nearly so bad as what is apparent about the person who uses the gesture. They are telling us that they have not learned how to engage in difficult conversations, and that they are impatient, or condescending, or mistrustful.
If I were a psychologist I might say that such a person has low self-esteem and can only build him or herself up by bringing others down. Even so, I don’t think that explanation would be a justification. We all need to have good self-esteem, and we usually find ways to develop it.
By the time we leave high school, most of us have found some effective techniques. We maintain friendships, we practice our creativity, we try to express our emotions through effective dialogue, we engage in productive work, and we participate in our community.
We don’t dramatically roll our eyes either to people’s faces or behind their backs. Our mothers would not approve. However, what we can do is to face the people who do this with a direct gaze and a raised eyebrow. That is also a clear message.