by Carmel Reid, Somerset UK
I recently wrote a blog¹ about Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness). There were some great comments that inspired me to ponder further on how much we do or don’t make eye contact. I have been playfully experimenting with REALLY looking into people’s eyes and it has been truly revealing.
In a SKYPE conversation when the camera is just away from a person’s face, it’s tricky – you either look at them on the screen or at the camera, it’s impossible to do both at the same time, so you never actually make full eye contact.
A short time ago, I was chatting with my son, who is 30 and has Moebius Syndrome – you can read his amazing blog and see pictures in the link at the end of this article². He was born with Cranial Nerves VI and VII (6 and 7) not working, so he has no facial expression – can’t move his lips and smile, can’t frown, and has difficulty blinking. He also has a squint. He can make his eyes look at you but that gives him a bit of a scary look. I explained to him that when I talk to someone with a squint I try to discern which eye is looking at me and talk to that one.
As our conversation developed, I began to realise just how much I tend to focus vaguely on a person’s face or I lip read rather than eye-read. Since then I have noticed more and more just how much I do this. As a child I couldn’t see faces, as my eyes were so short sighted, everything was out of focus, so I guess I never bothered to change that. I am, however, very good at reading body language, being very alert to subtle signals, and can recognise people from behind just by the way they walk, or even the way they bend over.
A few days after the conversation with my son, I had a similar one with my daughter. She is really good at remembering faces – she’s the one who would always patiently explain to me who was who in a film. Her partner joined in the conversation and said how he likes people to make true eye contact with him and I realised that I had not been. It has been an amazing discovery about my own behaviour.
I used to teach Assertiveness and Confident Communication and would tell people just how important eye contact was, if you wanted to be listened to, and I thought I was pretty good at it. I realise now, that for me it was all about communicating outward, especially when I taught Presentation Skills. Thinking back to how I used to present myself, it was all about commanding their attention and then gauging their reaction to me, so that I could tell if they were interested or not. I wasn’t really feeling them. It was a controlling way of keeping people out. I don’t think I really understood that eye contact is about letting people in. Now, I’m learning to RECEIVE through the eyes. Not just to sense their reaction (judgement, boredom etc.) but to receive WHO THEY ARE. It’s a whole different feeling.
Continuing with my playful experiment, at work in a busy supermarket, I have been gently making direct eye contact with the people who pass through my checkout. It’s been great fun. It may be only for a fleeting moment but I’ve found that some people don’t look at me at all, and some people really smile, as if we’ve made a genuine connection of mutual understanding. Sometimes I catch myself switching on a ‘customer care’ type of smile and people smile back at me politely. I can feel the falseness of that and much prefer to make a simple heart-felt connection with the eyes. It may or may not include a smile, but it feels TRUE.
The other day, there was a baby who looked at me seriously for quite a while, and I looked at her. As soon as I focused on her eyes and we made deep eye contact, with no expectation on my part, she broke out into the most joyful wriggle and beautiful smile, which made us all laugh.
Parents are often telling their children to ‘Smile’ or ‘Say Hello’ and I just say – “I’m getting the STARE – that’s better than any smile”. I find it awesome how babies really look at you, it’s as if they can see deep inside you, to the parts you normally keep hidden from society.
When I look into the eyes of Serge Benhayon or any of the Benhayon family members, they do the same, they really look at me. I found it scary at first, but now I know that what they see is how amazing I am, something I didn’t want to admit to because I was hanging onto my identity of not being good enough.
Now I can enjoy the eye contact, knowing that what they see, even though I still can’t always feel it, is truly who I am. I can allow myself to feel the joy they reflect, and the fun that I can have being ALL OF ME.
I’m still playing with my little experiment, while chatting with friends and everyone I meet, knowing that I can look into their eyes with confidence, and that I can choose to allow them in.
Sometimes it still feels a little scary, and sometimes it feels amazing. When I truly focus, there’s a feeling of gentle calmness, and then, just like with that baby, a giggle bubbles up from deep inside.
¹ My Blog on Prosopagnosia: Who are the People behind these Beautiful Faces
² My Son’s Story: Russell Briggs – The Many Faces of Moebius Syndrome