When younger, I aimed to project an image of someone who was tough but sensitive, in control but capable of surprise, and so on. This didn’t involve psychologists or ‘life coaches’ (the term hadn’t been invented because that job didn’t exist), but simply reading magazines at barbershops. The barber didn’t know, or he would have had a board that read: get a haircut while you become a better man. He would have charged more.

Those who wear yellow ties, said one article, are people who take charge, come across as reliable and may become CEOs. Just that. No why, no how, no when (one assumed the when was implied – it was a magazine published just three years earlier). So I began to wear yellow ties, and if people didn’t have the confidence to put me in charge, I simply told them about the tie psychology. Not wanting to look uneducated, such people usually put me in charge.

If your signature is underlined, claimed another article in another magazine, this one more recent, then it was indication that you were sensitive and in control. So I began to sign with a flourish, with a line underneath that proclaimed my sensitivity and control. And perhaps an organised set of teeth too, I can’t remember.

So many of our personal habits can be traced to magazines disseminating pop psychology, which we read (or glanced through) while we were young and waiting for haircuts. I still prefer yellow ties and sign my name with a line underneath, although I suspect that over the years yellow ties have come to stand for lack of conviction and the signature for something else, perhaps a shortage of yellow ties. Times change, psychologies evolve, and what sells magazines has little to do with neckties or handwriting.

For recently, at a barbershop, I read in a magazine with many pages missing that how you look at your cell phone indicates how much empathy you have for fellow human beings. Since then I have got overly self-conscious and virtually stopped looking at my phone. What if the person sitting next to me at a concert decides after seeing me look at my ringing phone that I don’t care for my fellow-human beings?

The way you take off your glasses, shake hands, comb your hair, arrange the credit cards in your wallet, sneeze, all say something about you. Some of it good, some terrible. You won’t find any of that in a textbook. Magazines hold sway here, and that is why I now go for a haircut every week. Can’t afford to miss the latest (or what was the latest two or three years ago) in self-knowledge.

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