Sitting at Panera Bread on a Monday afternoon. A young man comes by with a cart and asks if I am done with my plates. He speaks quietly and a bit hesitantly. Probably a new kid on the job. Learning the ways of the world.
I look him in the eye and say “Thank you. I’ll keep the cup but please do take the dishes.”
He nervously begins to say, “Merry Christmas,” but stumbles at first. I maintain eye contact and tell him: “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
This singular exchange is not about to change the world. But the fact of eye contact actually can make a great deal of difference in many ways.
So I have a challenge for all of you reading this article. Stop looking away from the people you encounter each day. Look them in the eye and make eye contact.
Do it even if they’re homeless and you have neither the time or money to give to them. Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their humanity.
Making eye contact is a fundamentally humanist experience. But it also has a spiritual dimension as well. Keeping eye contact even for a few seconds is a powerfully transformational experience. When you’re looking in their eyes, you are looking straight at their person. The eyes are the windows to the soul.
Pay particular attention to looking people of another race in the eye.You will be pleasantly surprised how much this dissolves discomfort over “the other” in society. Plus, it forces you to avoid thinking of yourself as separate or “apart” from everyone you encounter in society.
If you don’t think this is true, ask some spoiled celebrities why they demand that fans not make eye contact with them. It’s admittedly exhausting because making eye contact takes work. It requires attention, and attention requires energy. One can see why this might be so exhausting for a famous person. But one can also see why so many people become disconnected from reality.
Eye contact is key in business and personal relationships. It is certainly important in politics, where power and collaborating are communicated through the eyes.
But if each and every one of us were to make a good practice of looking other people in the eye, many of our supposed differences will not seem so important as they once did.
Look me in the eye and tell me that isn’t true.