Look Me in the Eye…Please!

 

 

We live in a world without eye contact.

A while ago I went door to door on behalf of a politician that I didn’t know all that well, but many of my friends (who do know this sort of thing) vouched for. I normally am quite a politically in-the-know person, but in this case I really wasn’t. I had a few big issues, and knew where the guy I was walking for stood on those, and that was fine. But I didn’t know as much as I normally do during campaigns, and felt mildly discomforted about that.

I just knew one thing. I didn’t like his opponent’s eyes.

That may sound superficial, but allow me to explain. Everytime I had been with this guy’s opponent (and I had been with him), he seemed incapable of looking you in the eye. His eyes were always scanning the room to see who else was there, or scanning somewhere else (as a woman, I hate it when men can’t look you in the eye, if you get my drift).

This wasn’t my only problem, but it was symbolic of the other things that just made me uncomfortable about him. He seemed calculating rather than caring; and I saw that in other areas, too.

There is something about eyes that is key to our character. When you can look someone in the eye, you invite intimacy. You invite conversation. You invite trust. When you don’t look someone in the eye, you dismiss them. You say their attention doesn’t matter.

As a society, though, we have given up on eye contact. I see so many people who go through the day on their phones. They’re texting constantly, or talking constantly, and as they do that, they don’t pay attention to those around them. They don’t chat up the grocery store clerk, or the friend in line. They don’t smile at strangers, that little bit of courtesy that brightens people’s day.


Photo by Zawezome
I often see teens outside the local high school at breaktime, texting constantly, but chatting, too. And I wonder: what kind of relationships are they forming, when they can never give 100% of their attention to another human being?

One of women’s main complaints about men is that they don’t look at us when we’re talking to them. They focus on the television, or the computer screen, or the newspaper, and they may say the occasional, “mmm hmmm”, but that’s not enough to satisfy us that they are listening to what we are saying. We want the eyes.

How will our kids grow up to be able to look their spouse in the eye when they never do it now? Are we losing the ability to communicate, to care about one individual at a time?

Tuesday nights are our family nights. No computers, no televisions, just our family, around the table, playing board games. I have to admit I didn’t really want to do it this week, because I was busy. But we made it a priority, so I did it. And I have not laughed as hard this week as I did then. We always end up in stitches over something stupid. But the best part, when you’re all sitting around the table, is that we can see each other’s eyes. We know they’re looking and listening and paying attention.

It’s like that at family dinners, too. When we sit down, even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes because we have an activity afterwards, we all connect, at the same time. I see any tiredness that’s there. I detect sadness. I can see excitement or joy. And we share.

How can this happen if people bring cell phones to the table? How can this happen if families go out to restaurants to “be together”, but everyone has their own iPhone? You’re not connecting. You’re ignoring, even if there is conversation going on.

We are losing the ability to look people in the eyes, and as we do that, we give the message that “I only pay attention to what is important to me, and you are not important.” Kindness has left the equation; it is now only what I want. It’s not about common courtesy or respect anymore; it is simply about entertainment and my own personal desires. And that is an extremely selfish society.

I am scared for our future; scared that we are raising a generation that will become that politician that made me so uncomfortable. I’m scared that we are becoming that ourselves as we become addicted to devices. Yes, they’re handy. Yes, they’re fun. But people are ever so much more fun when you really spend time with them. Eye to eye. Let’s not forget that, and let’s make sure our kids are forced, at least during some of the day, to look other people right in the eyes.

 

Comments

  1. Thou Art Jules says:

    >I agree! I am a total eye person. If someone cannot look me in the eye I am hesitant about them. Sometimes it's shyness but usually something else.

    Then again sometimes people are intimidated if you CAN look them in the eye. I remember when I was a teen and my Mother would talk to me about something that either I didn't want to talk about or something I did wrong.. It would aggravate me so bad that she would keep looking me right in the eyes.

    I know I do the same thing now..

  2. >I agree with you. I have had to teach myself to make eye contact with people, and now I try to teach my children that from the start.

    My issue really was a lack of self-esteem/self-respect, and I had to overcome that. Besides, not making eye contact is rude and like you I tend to distrust people who don't look at me while talking to me. Well, distrust and there is a slight amount of irritation since, again, rude.

    As far as the texting..I insist from my kids that when they are being spoken to they are to make eye contact. This includes when they (or my oldest, in this case) are in the middle of a very important text message. Lol Also, no phones or anything like that at the dinner table. Well, when we use it that is. Our house is really small so our table and dining area (which is part of our living room) are pretty much used as an office space.

    I hope that within a year we'll be moving, and I have already been scouting out houses. A dining room that is NOT part of the living room is a MUST. No TVs, video games, or other distractions allowed!

  3. Our Village is a Little Different says:

    >My sons have Asperger Syndrome. They can't look people in the eyes. We are working on getting them to look in the general direction of the face, such as the right shoulder, or something in that area, but they literally can not make eye contact. Just saying… it might not always be shiftiness, and I'd certainly look at th records of the two politicians before basing a vote on eye contact alone.

  4. >Village–

    I certainly understand the problem with Asperger's! My husband is a pediatrician, and my daughter teaches children piano with Asperger's.

    But I still think that people in general should try to look others in the eye, even if some have more difficulty with it than others!

    And don't worry; that's not the only reason I didn't vote for him. It was symptomatic of a whole lot of other things, that I won't go into in this blog. But it represented what I think is a wider issue. It just encapsulated it, if that makes sense! I just don't want to air all that stuff here, so I'll leave it at that.

  5. >My daughter is diagnosed AS (Autistic Spectrum).She has a hard time maintaining eye contact, and adults with whom I don't have enough of a relationship built to go into the whole schtick, get really put off from the lack of eye contact.It bothers me that people will judge her based on something for which she has little to no control…I maintain it wouldn't be such a big deal if she had a leg missing, but because it's ASD and she's high-functioning enough, the standards aren't the same. She can't help it. I have a hard time staring someone in the face for a whole conversation and I'm not "on the spectrum." Of course, most of that is from having to maintain a conversation and watch what my kids are doing @ the same time! :)
    Because I have to deal with a kid like this, and because I have a couple other acquaintances who are in the same boat, I tend to not even think about it anymore…we are training our daughter to look at people when she talks to them, but it's an uphill battle because you're basically teaching them a foreign language. The more I'm around kids who are like this and read about ASD related stuff, the more it doesn't phase me because it's kind of our new normal.
    There are some adults out there who are, for lack of a better term, socially awkward, and even though they may be in the political ring, looking someone in the eye may not come naturally to them. If there was something concrete in his/her platform or personal life to back up the lack of eye contact, I'd have my radar up. Otherwise, I guess I'm just so used to it that it wouldn't phase me all that much.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I have noticed this during church services when we do the sharing of the peace. I always look people in the eye when saying "peace be with you" but I have noticed only a handful actually meet my eyes. Most of them do just a VERY quick glance in my general facial direction, and then before the phrase has finished leaving their lips, their eyes are sliding off sideways or over my shoulder to look for the next person. This bugs me. I don't look straight past people while shaking their hands–wish they wouldn't do it to me!

  7. This was an very interesting read and the author seems very philosophical and analytical; just as I. I loved your interpretation and perception of the “lack of eye contact” in today’s post-modern, industrialized world. It’s interesting that in today’s age of technological prowess – we seem to be losing the “human” aspect, the very thing that makes us human. Is this the dawn as humanity tries to spawn “offspring” or A.I. that we shall create in our image as the foretold singularity approaches? – I don’t know. I do know you make some interesting points and it’s refreshing there are at least still some humans that sit back and think deeply about our reality and our interactions with other humans and the subsequent byproducts of those interactions.

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