[Pet peeves are not anything we want to cultivate or nurture…I get to a more positive place at the end so hang in there with me.]
US culture has changed – especially related to encounters with strangers or those we consider insignificant or irrelevant – as shown by turned down or away faces, looking beyond people, or not engaging with those we don’t know or don’t care to know.
People passing in hallways as if a living human being isn’t within their visual field. Charting a course from Point A to Point B, maneuvering around people without words. Stepping aside, disengaging, when someone else enters the space and greets one of the two in conversation. Disinterested.
I don’t understand this lack of desire in connection. This avoidance of engagement.
Where does it start? I occasionally teach elementary school-aged children, and even at this early age, there are kiddos who seem to easily engage across groups and with authority figures, others who are shy to engage or are awkward in social interactions, and, finally, those who only engage with their buddies (unless pressed to engage with others). Is it a personality thing? A social anxiety? Is there an environment (classroom or home) that sets a pattern for the children who see and engage with those around them and the ones who refuse to see beyond their friend group? It’s probably complicated, right?
We have grandchildren that look, gaze, see others…and refuse not to be seen. I hope it never changes as they grow older. How did they get where they are as children? I need to ask this question of their parents.
Eye contact as a behavior of connection can occur on a spectrum. No one wants the gift of creepy, penetrating stare-downs. A more subtle or passing gaze could communicate a desire for engagement but accompanied by a further desire not to intrude. Or at the opposing end of the spectrum, the total lack of eye contact as if there is no one there…or the hope, with social anxiety, that if I don’t look, you don’t see me. However, somewhere in the middle of all this, is the one who makes steady and engaging eye contact. That one that says with their eyes and facial expressions, “I see you”. Conversation may or may not follow…but to be seen and acknowledged is a small and precious gift we can present to another.
A life habit easily developed is to determine to see those around us. To make meaningful eye contact. To honor those in front of us (whether a store clerk, fellow employee, or guy in the gym). Lock eyes, a head nod, a smile, a greeting – communicating “I see you”.
This comes to play in all sorts of situations. It is a humanizing practice. A situational awareness that goes beyond keeping ourselves and others safe. It communicates that we matter in the spaces we share.
In our city, as one for instance, we see people with signs at many of the intersections. Beggars. Homeless. Not really sure. The very least we can give them is our eyes…acknowledging them whether we give money or not.
Remember, I spoke earlier of a pet peeve not being something I want to indulge, right? So…
A pet peeve is a button pushed. Long ago, I made it an aim to get rid of the buttons in my life. They divide us and there’s enough division out there already.
This is one I’m still wrestling with…and not to my credit. It becomes easy for me to intentionally ignore, or see past those who see past me…or those who “refuse to see” ones who matter to me. Yet…am I not doing the same thing then? By faulting those in my small opinion are “refusing to see”? When we fault people, without understanding them, we don’t really see them either.
May it not continue so in me. How about you?
The Power of Being Known – Holly Korbey (Video above details some of this article – so good!)