Opinion: Eye Contact

By: Carine Sidhom


At a school the size of our own, there are many noticeable nuances among our demographic. One such microcosm is our inability to look into each other’s eyes for more than a full second.


Constantly afraid of what this eye contact might imply, we avoid it like the plague.


I find this highly ironic in that every bit of social justice and mission and Ignatian leadership trickles down to human dignity, which is implicitly communicated through eye contact. How are we to serve others and offer them any human connection if we are left completely severed of human connection with our own peers?


Eye contact is quite possibly the single most human gesture as well as the easiest way to offer inclusivity. Nothing speaks more of mutual respect than this particular reciprocated gesture. Though it is simple, it is integral to healthy human interaction. We are an incredibly visual species—we always want to look. And while it is natural to look, looking is taken so seriously.


So yes, eye contact is the easiest form of acknowledgment, but sometimes, it honestly feels like the most forced and awkward form of contact between two people. It’s almost become more a means of rejection than of connection at this point.


I cannot count on two hands the number of times I’ve caught someone’s eye and have begun to wave only to find their eyes immediately averted from my own.


Why is it so horrible to look into someone’s eyes long enough to detect some kind of salutation? I swear I am not the only one who has to deal with this eye-tag! And I promise I won’t stare blankly until you say something first as if we’re in some competition. This is no standoff, and there certainly is no judgment on my end if you so much as look at me for .238 seconds.


This tiny measure of hello has turned into a daily event. An event for which one must prepare a very generic, “Hey, how are you?” without any thought of response other than “good”, which isn’t even grammatically correct. And here’s a thought—there is no time to ask someone how he or she is doing and expect a decent response in the span of four footsteps.  Don’t ask if you aren’t willing to follow up with the intention of hearing an answer. Really, this is elementary.


But I digress….

The point is, after constant eye-rejection, I am left wondering whether it really is that subdued of a notion when its constant denial sends a message of dismissal. 


So with that in mind, I think eye contact is underplayed, but the game of fleeting glances is overrated. It’s impolite to stare, sure, but I think it’s a heck of a lot more rude to deny eye contact. I’m not challenging my colleagues to a blinking contest; I just find it very irksome that we resort to a competition of spastic eyeballs to ensure we are not the ones to initiate contact. It seems that there is some unspoken guideline suggesting that speaking first or approaching a peer classifies someone as weak, vulnerable, or too eager.


Everyone is so cautious against being perceived as awkward that they shy away from any encounter upon which amiability is extrapolated, as if friendliness correlates with weakness. That extreme consciousness and analysis alone serves as a catalyst for awkward encounters.


As eye contact is so vital to normalcy, its absence is something we’ve been highly attuned to. The most obvious way to tell something has gone awry between two people is to note their lack of eye contact. It’s a dead give-away. So when there is no problem between yourself and another, why avoid the meeting of eyes?


We walk with our eyes downcast as we very uncomfortably pretend to text or check the time or be completely encapsulated by something so astoundingly consuming so as to avoid abashedly saying hello to a schoolmate, suggesting that saying hello is something to be embarrassed of.


Yet everyone complains about the person who denied him or her eye contact as if it has become a commodity of sorts—you can only share eye contact with a select few, and to hell with everyone else. And when you see that very person again, oh shoot, don’t look now, don’t look….stop looking, glance down…check texts, okay, they’re gone, and once again, all is well in the world. You can carry on with relief and newfound grace.


So what’s with the misconception that a little smile is a sign of vulnerability? Why are we so embarrassed, and what’s got our ego so big?

It’s childish, really. If this is all in a vain attempt to conserve status, we should be schmoosing with everyone we see—it’s called networking.  We are adults who benefit from this very networking and keeping face— not from hiding face.


Why are we so painfully aware of those around us, yet too proud to say hello or simply look into one another’s eyes in quiet acknowledgement? It’s one thing if you don’t notice someone, but vehemently pretending not to notice someone is possibly the most obvious and pathetic attempt at acting nonchalant and un-phased. Furthermore, it either makes people a.) not want to deal with you, or b.) feel looked down upon and/or inadequate. If that is your intention, then by all means, continue avoiding eye contact to feel macho.


After all, Gonzaga students are pretty darn good looking, you might as well get a good look when you can. And as far as the social aspect goes, two years from now we may not even have the opportunity to say hello to nearly as many people in a single place. There’s a lot to be seen, and you’ll never know if you don’t keep those eyes open!


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