We live in a world without eye contact.
A while ago I went door to door on behalf of a politician that I didn't know all that well, but many of my friends (who do know this sort of thing) vouched for. I normally am quite a politically in-the-know person, but in this case I really wasn't. I had a few big issues, and knew where the guy I was walking for stood on those, and that was fine. But I didn't know as much as I normally do during campaigns, and felt mildly discomforted about that.
I just knew one thing. I didn't like his opponent's eyes.
That may sound superficial, but allow me to explain. Everytime I had been with this guy's opponent (and I had been with him), he seemed incapable of looking you in the eye. His eyes were always scanning the room to see who else was there, or scanning somewhere else (as a woman, I hate it when men can't look you in the eye, if you get my drift).
This wasn't my only problem, but it was symbolic of the other things that just made me uncomfortable about him. He seemed calculating rather than caring; and I saw that in other areas, too.
There is something about eyes that is key to our character. When you can look someone in the eye, you invite intimacy. You invite conversation. You invite trust. When you don't look someone in the eye, you dismiss them. You say their attention doesn't matter.
As a society, though, we have given up on eye contact. I see so many people who go through the day on their phones. They're texting constantly, or talking constantly, and as they do that, they don't pay attention to those around them. They don't chat up the grocery store clerk, or the friend in line. They don't smile at strangers, that little bit of courtesy that brightens people's day.
I often see teens outside the local high school at breaktime, texting constantly, but chatting, too. And I wonder: what kind of relationships are they forming, when they can never give 100% of their attention to another human being?
One of women's main complaints about men is that they don't look at us when we're talking to them. They focus on the television, or the computer screen, or the newspaper, and they may say the occasional, "mmm hmmm", but that's not enough to satisfy us that they are listening to what we are saying. We want the eyes.
How will our kids grow up to be able to look their spouse in the eye when they never do it now? Are we losing the ability to communicate, to care about one individual at a time?
Tuesday nights are our family nights. No computers, no televisions, just our family, around the table, playing board games. I have to admit I didn't really want to do it this week, because I was busy. But we made it a priority, so I did it. And I have not laughed as hard this week as I did then. We always end up in stitches over something stupid. But the best part, when you're all sitting around the table, is that we can see each other's eyes. We know they're looking and listening and paying attention.
It's like that at family dinners, too. When we sit down, even if it's just for ten or fifteen minutes because we have an activity afterwards, we all connect, at the same time. I see any tiredness that's there. I detect sadness. I can see excitement or joy. And we share.
How can this happen if people bring cell phones to the table? How can this happen if families go out to restaurants to "be together", but everyone has their own iPhone? You're not connecting. You're ignoring, even if there is conversation going on.
We are losing the ability to look people in the eyes, and as we do that, we give the message that "I only pay attention to what is important to me, and you are not important." Kindness has left the equation; it is now only what I want. It's not about common courtesy or respect anymore; it is simply about entertainment and my own personal desires. And that is an extremely selfish society.
I am scared for our future; scared that we are raising a generation that will become that politician that made me so uncomfortable. I'm scared that we are becoming that ourselves as we become addicted to devices. Yes, they're handy. Yes, they're fun. But people are ever so much more fun when you really spend time with them. Eye to eye. Let's not forget that, and let's make sure our kids are forced, at least during some of the day, to look other people right in the eyes.
Labels: communication, family meals, teenagers