Edwin M. Stanton was speaking with an associate when another member from his department passed by. Stanton said that the middle-aged officer was “a pretender and a humbug and a fraud” and asked rhetorically if his companion had ever seen someone who looked so much like a codfish. Stanton’s companion was taken aback, saying that the officer had a sterling reputation, and on any account, didn’t have control over his looks.
“I don’t agree,” Stanton retorted. “A man of 50 is responsible for his face!”
A few months later, the colleague was convicted of stealing public funds.
Yes, everyone start the life with the face parents gave. But thereafter, whatever is going on on our insides, begins to register on our outsides. Minute after minute, month after month, decade after decade, the things we think, the choices we make, and the facial expressions such thoughts and behaviors produce, become etched on one’s visage.
It’s true that people with punchable faces typically have punchable personalities. People with kind eyes are normally kind. Whether a life is led with contempt, or compassion, these dispositions are in some strange but perceptible way carved into the countenance.
There are exceptions, sometimes, but by and large, you often can judge a book by its cover.
Recognition of this fact is important, because it shows that our thoughts and choices, far from being the kind of weak, mutable, ephemeral things we often imagine, actually generate a powerful, durable, transformative force. Character is not something that can be disguised with the right talk, the screwed-on smile, the veneer of politeness. Instead, the choices we make create indelible reverberations that cannot be concealed, and, indeed, inescapably seep out of every pore.