I remember just starting my life in New York City, fresh off the plane, having no clue about what my life is going to be like. With the only hope for it to be better.
Looking straight into someone's eyes was natural to me. How else would you let another human know that you acknowledge their presence? This is what making eye contact really is. Saying silently to another person that you know they are there, you see them and are potentially open to them.
That was then. Years and years later I found myself having hard time to do just that. I became so good at looking but not seeing. Deviation of just couple degrees and their eyes are not in your viewing zone. They can't approach, can't smile, are not welcome to speak, because it's pointless. That's how deep connections were not formed over and over again. It was oh so comfortable though. I could've lived in this "safe" bubble for a really long time. New York sort of encourages it. Notice people in bars. Nobody is making eye contact, and sure there might be other reasons for that, like obnoxious people trying to hit on you. I'm not talking about such situations. Or how about the meeting in your office when no one is looking a presenter straight in the eye while they are giving a speech? I'm not even going to mention a cashier at the register, why bother?
Tomorrow, lift your eyes, find a human, see and smile.
You might be surprised to discover what a difference it
could make to your day.
And to theirs.
It took me a while to notice this pattern first in my own behavior and then in people I came across. The way back was not filled with rose petals. Every time I looked away it took me couple of seconds to realize what I was doing. And it was too late every time. So I started small. With friends, people I felt safe with, someone at my job, my mother. It didn't work out right away but I kept trying. I kept bringing it up in conversations with my friends and after initial lack of interest I noticed something. I watched them sorting through their memories and realizing they all behave the same way. Who could've thought that such a seemingly basic and innocent thing could become so uneasy on a lot of us?
Turns out, it's not as simple as showing off our beautiful eye lashes. By consciously making eye contact we are voluntarily agreeing to being vulnerable. It's an outside-of-our-comfort-zones experience at its best. Our preservation instincts kick in and we can't keep the gaze. Our insecurities come out, thoughts are flushing to the brain, what if they don't like us, what if we sound stupid, what if? The funny thing is, the other person might be thinking the same. And that's when both of us look down, turn our back to the other and walk the other way. What about all that energy we were craving? What about the connection we were looking for? It's gone.
Possibly, one of the reasons for us being so sensitive to eye contact is the fact that our eyes are part of our nervous system. Diencephalon, which is part of our brain, forms retina and an optic nerve. So when we look someone straight in the eyes, we are literally connecting our neurological system to theirs. No wonder we are trying to protect ourselves. No wonder we are scared. No wonder it's easier for us to get in our cocoon and forget that the biggest pleasure of all is to find those special connections with people like us, to share laughter and sadness, to create memories together, and to be appreciative of the fact we are lucky to be able to see each other.
Tomorrow, lift your eyes, find a human, see and smile. You might be surprised to discover what a difference it could make to your day. And to theirs.
Photo Credit Rhett Wesley on Unsplash