Here’s an interesting social experiment. Walk through a high-traffic area and try to make eye contact with as many people as possible. It’s interesting to see the results. Some people glare and scowl with suspicion, some smile and nod amiably at you, others react almost not at all, other than the brief flicker of their eyes in your direction. And it’s always surprising to me just how many people never look higher than the tips of their own shoes.
They’re “windows to the soul”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=79, eyes are. Maybe that’s part of why we always tend to be so hesitant about making eye contact with other people, particularly people we don’t know. Some people are merely introverts. It’s easier to look down and away, safer, than to make direct eye contact. Could be insecurity, afraid that making eye contact will cause someone else to actually notice you and then unleash their scorn and ridicule upon you. Could be just the busy pace of life or the seeming increase of the unsavory and untrustworthy type that makes us avoid eye contact or become suspicious of someone who does. Might be the fact that nearly everything in our culture today has become sexualized, whether it ought to be or not, and so eye contact, being a somewhat intimate form of personal interaction, tends to feel more flirtatious or lascivious than it should. Maybe it’s just a bad day and people simply want to be left alone.
On the other hand, it could be that many of us recognize that eye contact is merely a great way of saying hello or showing respect for a stranger without ever stopping or without ever saying a word. It could be a great way to show friendliness or cameraderie or any number of a dozen other things.
What does this observation say about people? Probably nothing conclusive. People tend to be more or less open to making eye contact with others from day to day, depending on how they feel or their mood or other circumstances. Still, I’d love to get inside people’s heads for that brief moment, find out what they are thinking when their eyes lock with that strangers’ for that split second. I wonder what I would find out…