Blushing—A Human Exclusive
THE English author Rudyard Kipling once wrote a poem in which he has a seventeen-year-old girl plaintively saying the following words:
“I cannot check my girlish blush,
My colour comes and goes.
I redden to my finger tips
And sometimes to my nose.”
In those lines the poet accurately indicated several basic characteristics of blushing.
Generally, authors speak favorably of blushing. Thus some of them have written: “A blush is the color of virtue.” “A blush is a sign that nature hangs out, to show where chastity and honor dwell.” “Better a blush in the face than a blot on the heart.” However, a few others, perhaps somewhat cynical, say: “Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.” “Men blush less for their crimes, than for their weaknesses and vanity.” And a modern psychologist theorizes that persons blush because they want to communicate that what others think of them is not actually so.
Most likely you have blushed on more than one occasion or may even be among those who blush quite readily. Why do you blush? Is it a good or a bad thing?
Characteristics of Blushing
A blush is a sudden reddening of the face, ears and neck. It is often accompanied with a flaccid condition of the cheek muscles and a downcast expression of the eyes, in which the glances of others are avoided. At times there may be a turning of the body as if wanting to conceal oneself. And more likely than not, a blush will be accompanied with a glowing or tingling sensation over the whole body. There may even be a tremor of the muscles and a partial paralysis of the limbs. At times there is a change in the sound of the voice and even tears may come to the eyes of the one blushing, or one may suddenly begin to perspire. And, in some cases, a person blushing has a palpitation of the heart and a feeling of fear or panic.
All races and nationalities blush, although in the dark-skinned races the blushing is not as obvious. Albinos, those with little if any pigment at all in their skin, also blush; in fact, more readily than do their fellows of their own race.
Blushing is most prevalent in the young, the innocent and the unsophisticated. With the advancing years and with one’s becoming worldly-wise it often gradually ceases to manifest itself. However, what another does may cause you to blush if that one should happen to be a close friend or relative. And their blushing may also cause you to blush. Though some question it, it does seem that women blush more readily than do men, at least some women do. But it is quite likely that women today blush less readily than their grandmothers did.
What causes blushing? It has been described as “a mental disorder which begins with overlapping mental attitudes, producing embarrassment and inability to function.” It comes and goes almost instantaneously and is an involuntary act. A person can be made to laugh by being tickled, but there is no physical means by which one can cause another person to blush. Neither can blushing be termed a reflex action. Laughter and merriment can be feigned by actors on a stage but not a blush. Even as it cannot be brought forth at will, the will cannot prevent its appearance. In fact, to try to do so may cause one to blush all the more.
Strange as it may seem, as well as apparently contradicting some modern theories about blushing, the fact is that blind persons blush, even more readily than those enjoying sight. Deaf persons also blush. And most remarkable of all is the fact that even those blind and deaf blush, as did Laura Bridgman, who lost both her sight and hearing at the age of two. And of Helen Keller, who even earlier in life became both deaf and blind, we are told: “Her blushing can have no relation to looks or words of disapproval, connected either with her appearance or her conduct; yet she blushes just as girls do who see and hear, from the same causes, over the same parts of the body, and with the same experience of tingling.” This report accords with the findings of some that even when alone a person may blush when visualizing himself in a situation in which he would ordinarily blush or when he happens to be reading something that embarrasses him.
One artist, we are told, nearly drove himself mad trying to portray the charm of a blush on his canvas. To him it was “the most extraordinary incident in a woman’s face.” But all he could do was paint rosy-cheeked maidens.
Let it be noted that a blush is not to be confused with a flushing of the face. A hot flush may be due to some physical condition, such as the menopause of women, or it may be the flush of rage.
The Mechanism of Blushing
Blushing might be said to be an example of the psychosomatic principle at work, namely, that the mind, the psyche, and the body, the soma, are one; what affects one affects the other. A confused state of mind, as it were, acts upon the sympathetic nervous system. It, in turn, stimulates the vasodilators, causing the peripheral capillaries to expand. The result is that more blood flows to the surface of the face and neck, resulting in a reddening of the skin.
What accounts for this mechanism? Why do persons blush? What purpose does it serve?
A Human Exclusive
Blushing is a human exclusive. The brute creation, the animals, do not blush. They may at times display emotional characteristics similar to those of man, such as rage, jealousy, affection, playfulness, and so forth. But they do not blush. “Blushing is the most peculiar and most human of all emotions,” says Charles Darwin in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
Why is blushing a human exclusive? Because it involves conceptual thinking and/or the moral sense, neither of which animals have. Animals cannot conceive of either the fitness or the lack of fitness of things; neither can they judge between right and wrong. They are “without understanding,” as the Bible puts it. Idiots rarely blush. And very small children, those who are still without understanding, do not blush.—Ps. 32:9.
Thus a young woman may blush when something indecent happens to her or she hears or sees something that seems immodest. It is as if her purity and innocence were violated. Then, again, a person may blush because of an awkward situation or for having committed some foolish blunder. Likewise, a modest or shy person may blush when complimented or when singled out for high praise that suddenly makes him feel unduly conspicuous.
Why do persons blush under such circumstances? Those who hold that man is the product of evolution have no answer. How has man acquired this characteristic if he evolved from the brute creation, since none of them blush?
If we recognize that man was created by God and in the image of God and given a moral sense, a conscience, then we can see at least one practical purpose being served by man’s involuntarily blushing. As one writer, living more than a century ago, put it, blushing serves as a guardian of the conscience, which tells man that he must not deceive. When he violates what he knows or thinks is right, he will blush; it will cause him to feel shame.
In addition to this basic cause for blushing, persons may blush because of having made some mistake, violating the fitness of things in another respect. It is natural to want to be well thought of, and when one makes an awkward social error or faux pas, embarrassment may cause one to blush. This would help to explain why most, though not all persons, blush less readily with the passing of the years. The nervous system becomes less responsive to the emotions and, at the same time, a person’s conscience may become less responsive to moral values.
Blushing as Mentioned in the Bible
While not all Bible translations use the term “to blush” or “blushing,” they all more or less describe the effect. Thus, The Jerusalem Bible quotes Ezra as saying: “My God, I am ashamed, I blush to lift my face to you, my God. For our crimes have increased, until they are higher than our heads.” (Ezra 9:6) And the Revised Standard Version at Jeremiah 6:15 reads: “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.”
No question about it, blushing is a human characteristic. It also gives evidence that man was created by a just, wise and loving Maker. Blushing is one of his gifts to man to help him to respond to his conscience, for his own happiness and well-being.