Stared him in the face?

中国日报网 2014-01-21 10:18



Stared him in the face?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: He wouldn’t know art if it stared him in the face.

My comments:

Put another way, this man’s taste in art leaves much to be desired.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. This man doesn’t have an eye for art at all.

Let’s make use of an example. If you put a Picasso painting in front of him, he would not be able to see if it’s any good or different.

That’s likely it. Or something like that.

To stare at something, you see, is to look fixedly at it, and in close range. You stare into a small mirror, for example, and you can see your face staring back at you.

Hence and therefore, if something stares you in the face, it is close by, face to face with you and perhaps crying out loud for your attention. If you don’t see it, then you’re oblivious of it, ignorant of it, unaware of it.

Perhaps it doesn’t stare you in the face long enough. Or perhaps you should just learn to pay closer attention to what you are confronted with.

Or, as they say, face the facts.

And the facts can be anything. I mean, anything can stare us in the face, beauty, truth, humor, defeat, death, anything.

And if they stare us in the face, meaning they’re obviously there, and we don’t see them, perhaps there’s something wrong with us. I mean, if someone talk about you that way, saying something stared you in the face and you wouldn’t be able to see it, or do something about it, usually they don’t mean it as a compliment.

Usually not at all.

Alright, media examples:

1. President Obama didn’t have to don scuba gear. All he had to do was look like he cared about the relentless plume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

Presidents can’t always make things better. But the country always wants them to look like they’re trying.

As crude oil flooded the Gulf waters, Obama and his team acted like this disaster was someone else’s problem, specifically BP’s, the company that owns the rig that exploded on April 20.

The candidate who talked about the fierce urgency of now turned into a chief executive who didn’t know what to do when it stared him in the face. Because of the gap between campaign rhetoric and actual White House response, Obama lost this public relations war. That became clear when MSNBC host Chris Matthews and Democratic strategist James Carville publicly criticized his handling of the crisis.

- In oil-soaked news, Obama out of picture,, May 27, 2010.

2. Nearing retirement age Bryan looked back on his life with few regrets. His children were grown up and successful and he was happily married, life was almost perfect except for a niggling concern over his weight.

As Bryan aged his weight slowly crept up and he was all too aware of the links between being overweight and developing chronic conditions like Heart Disease and Diabetes. His concerns were compounded when a colleague died of Diabetes related complications.

Bryan’s own mortality stared him in the face, he realised that if he didn’t do something about his weight he could also become a victim of his size. “Of the many dire consequences of obesity, I found one possible outcome very disturbing. The loss of a friend and colleague some time ago from acute onset diabetes, due I believe to his being overweight, was a great shock.”

“I entered ‘BMI’ into a search engine and found myself on the Guardian website. I discovered that my BMI was 33, describing me as obese. I decided it was time to act.”

Bryan chose to follow the Gi diet plan; which included the principles of a low fat diet.

Just 8 months after registering for the Guardian programme Bryan has achieved a 4 stone loss and lost many inches.

“It is a milestone that I would have thought beyond my reach earlier this year. My neck size is back to just over 17 inches which is what it was throughout my early adult years.”

- Bryan loses 4 stone for his health,, January 11, 2014.

3. Discovering why only a minority of people actively resist adversity, in any country, at any time, even when injustice stares them in the face or affects them directly, can be tantalising.

Most people just get on with their lives and survive. In Nazi Germany, ignoring Hitler atrocities, villagers were in denial about nearby concentration camps. Yet a handful of German military chiefs lost their lives in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Former French president François Mitterand was first involved in the Vichy collaborationist regime, and was then a founder member of one of the first armed resistance movements in France, the Maquis, resisting Nazi occupation from 1942.

Sometimes, individuals have simply had enough, such as Rosa Parks, a black American seamstress. Having travelled all her life on segregated buses in the Deep South, in 1955, on an impulse, she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, triggering a wave of non-violent protests, which led to the great civil rights movement. In 1962, James Howard Meredith braved the Ku Klux Klan and angry white blockades to become the first black student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi.

Decorated twice for his Red Army service, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn never questioned Stalinist ideology until he was arrested in 1945 and sent to a forced labour camp for derogatory comments in a private letter about Stalin's handling of the war. But that grim experience turned him into a fierce critic of Soviet totalitarianism, epitomised by the gulags, propelling him into exile.

The Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave, in which Solomon Northup is kidnapped and oppressed by a sadistic slave master but rebels, shows how slavery was rationalised by American plantation owners, and more importantly by ordinary white Americans – just as the majority of white South Africans were socialised into believing apartheid was excusable.

A mass of people may be behind movements fighting oppression – indeed, a mass following is invariably a prerequisite to success and liberation – but activists, the courageous people who take risks and make sacrifices, are usually small in number.

- Be it Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa we must thank the few who resist,, January 20, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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