Our habits and mannerisms

April 3, 2022

There are so many things which make each human being unique, namely, who he or she actually is, that so many of us have become known perhaps more for our habits and/or mannerisms than for our names. Let us be clear that we are not speaking about medically related matters here. The majority of these (we can also call them quirks) occur above the neck. Many of us nod ever so slightly with our full heads, especially when we feel it necessary to be sure that the other party really “gets it” as we make a strong verbal remark. That nod, by the way, can be up and down or side to side. It certainly is distracting to the other participant in the conversation, and a supportive plus for the nodder, even though s/he may not realize it.

Then there is the wink of the eye, or the blinks of both eyes. Again, as with any habit, the person performing this facial action is totally unaware of its occurrence.

As a fun activity, just ask that person whether s/he is aware of the wink or the blink! Assuming that most of us do display one mannerism or another, we are rarely cognizant of this involuntary action. Such is what makes these interactions so interesting both to watch and to perform. Moving down the torso a bit, we have the shrug of the shoulders, either individually or singularly. One would take from that reaction that the person wished to convey a type of nonchalant response to whatever was said or done.

And now we come to the most practical and most often observed of our habits and mannerisms – involving the hand(s). Naturally, we can easily state the dictum that person X or Y always talks with his/her hands. Probably it is more likely that persons A through Z use their digital extensions to assist them in the expression of a thought. It may be a continuous series of motions during a verbal response, or that singular raising of both hands signaling “hold it.”  Very few of us enjoy facing two palms raised as we complete our sentence. Let us keep in mind, though, that this is still merely a habit, and hopefully the reaction is taken in that light. There is no need for a negative response from the hands of the other person, even though we human beings are not fond of having someone (in or out of uniform) motion for us to stop.

To emphasize the digital habit would be the use of the index (yes, only the index) finger. This reaction is usually coupled with the use of the total hand with an intermittent finger here and there. Of greater fun is the simultaneous movement of all the fingers, and of even more enjoyment is the papal type of hand/finger manipulation, not to mention the queen’s or Miss America’s wave.

Imagine a world of human interactions which lacked or avoided those habits and mannerisms with which we have all become so familiar. Absent from this column are easily tens upon tens of habits displayed daily by most of us. Many of them are devoid of conversation. We are familiar with sitting on one foot, shaking a foot or two while seated, even the rare tapping of the foot while standing. The medical profession, whether physical or psychological, is hard pressed to determine the factors which cause these habits, but be assured we are fine as human beings with our idiosyncrasies. Remember that our own parents termed it a matter of nerves.

The trick is for us to accept each other’s mannerisms, since we all have them, whether we realize it or not. Fortunately, too, so many of those quirks are really amusing, thus diminishing the extent of the pain they may cause another party.

None of us can determine the source or the path of these varied actions of the body, but we are living with them and doing quite well. Purposefully absent from my observations are the mental mannerisms which translate themselves into vocal utterances such as the clearing of the throat, or a “hmm” here and there. Oh, how about the sucking of the teeth! Some of these may be termed annoying, but we have taught ourselves how to live with them, as well as the silent habits. Thank goodness for that!


  • Peter E. Carter is a former public school administrator who has served communities in three states as a principal, and district and county superintendent, for 35-plus years. He is a board member for Delaware Botanic Gardens and Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation, and the author of a dual autobiography, “A Black First…the Blackness Continues.”

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