The eyes really are the window to the soul. I’ve always made it a point to look directly into a persons’ eyes when speaking with them. This has, on occasion, unnerved some, but I defend this practice for two reasons; one, making and holding eye contact ensures you have their attention, and two, looking into someone’s eyes is the only way to really ‘see’ the person, in all sincerity.
People often put on a façade; a ‘game face’, if you will, to accommodate the audience or situation, ie, they try to project the image expected of them in the moment. This is often to camouflage their own vulnerability; hide their pain or insecurity or sorrow, even joy. Most people are uncomfortable revealing their emotions too readily because it potentially exposes what they perceive as weakness within themselves. (The whole, ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘learn how to hide your feelings’, rules)
Letting ourselves feel and express every emotion, happy or sad, is one of the gifts that comes with being human. How often have you asked someone how they are, and gotten a half – hearted response; ‘fine’? You know from the answer, they are not fine at all. Take it a step further. Look them in the eye when you next ask and you may be surprised to get an honest answer. You may also get appreciation for expressing sincere interest cause let’s be honest here, most of us ask about another out of habit and usually don’t care what the answer is. Looking directly at a person when posing a question forces honesty. They can’t look you in the eye and lie, not without squirming and giving themselves away – the soul doesn’t lie.
I’d like to think that if we all took the time to genuinely look at another we’d change our behaviours in a positive way. If you look into the eyes of the obnoxious sales clerk, you might see that they’re nervous on the job, possibly insecure about approaching you. Wouldn’t that temper your reaction to them?
If the abuser looked deeply into the eyes of their victim, be it a child, spouse, dog, etc, would they still strike them? I believe they would see fear, pain or disappointment, maybe they’d even see the reflection of themselves in those eyes – would it cause them to pause, reflect on their actions? Not making eye contact makes the victim anonymous giving the abuser a guilt free conscience. Staring right at them is like forcing a mirror into their face and odds are they won’t like what they see.
If you look into the eyes of the coworker who’s testy or moody, maybe you’d see fatigue, or sadness (never presume to know what goes on in the life of another) Maybe they are unwell, or are having problems with a child, spouse, parent, finances. Maybe they’re unhappy with their job. Looking directly into their eyes when you ask tells them the question isn’t just lip service; you really sincerely care how they are, and while it’s not an invitation to get their life story, it does resonate in their minds that we live in a caring society.
It has been my experience that looking directly into someone’s eyes invites trust. Granted, it’s also made me the confidant of many, and sometimes the burden of hearing another’s story takes an emotional toll, but I wouldn’t change my strategy because looking deeply into the eyes of another opens the window to my own soul letting them know we are all weak and vulnerable and loving and caring, and very humanly beautiful.
Here’s to looking at you, kid! (ok, shameless pilfering from the classic, ‘Casablanca’, but I had to do it)