Friday, April 16, 2010

Body language can fool you.

It sure fooled the Pittsburgh District Attorney's office this year. The DA's office brought charges against a Pittsburgh PAT bus driver for indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and reckless endangerment when he was seen (first by another PAT driver) to have put his son's head on his lap and to have patted his rear.

All PAT buses run video cameras, and after PAT officials reviewed the video, they suspected evil doing and shared the video with the DA's office. Then the travesty began. Anthony Leffler, 51, was arrested, lost his job and was told to stay away from his sons. This, of course, led to his being humiliated and publicly accused of being a pervert. Fortunately, Common Pleas Judge avid Cashman saw a ridiculous situation and threw the case out, proving that common sense can prevail over poor body language interpretation.

What should you think when a child's head is put in his father's lap? A sex thing going on? What should you think if a man pats his son's (or, worse, his daughter's back side)? A sex thing going on? It seems ridiculous to even consider, doesn't it?

What should you think if the person across from you folds his arms across his chest? That he's angry? Maybe he's cold. What if a woman looks at you? Should you assume she's automatically interested in you? Maybe you have a new pimple on your nose.
What should you think if I look away and up to my left? That I'm lying? Maybe I'm just shy.

We are told that in emotional situations we communicate with few words and much body language (the famous and misrepresented Albert Mehrabian study at UCLA). If it is true that we use body language to understand each other in emotional times, we must think carefully and realize that body language needs to be consider in context and not in isolated body clues. Or, we will attribute messages that aren't being sent or don't exist.

This happened to Anthony Leffler and he suffered for it. Wouldn't you like to talk to his accusers and ask them why they see pedophilia when a dad puts his son's head in his lap and pats his butt?

BTW - Mehrabian said that we express our feeling 7% by words, 38% by tone of voice and 55% by body language. He didn't say that we always communicate this way. It's in emotional times when we express feelings. The bus driver was being emotional and he used body language to expres it. Unfortunately, some troubled people with wild imaginations misunderstood.

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