The eyes have it

Eye contact is a powerful connection, all but lost in many modern situations


I am always reminded of my sister-in-law Shirley’s comment. She was adamant about it. When you have a champagne toast, you are to look into one another’s eyes and truly mean “to your good health.” The same is true as you begin a meal with raised glasses and “cheers.” She always said, “Here’s looking you in the eye,” and then went out of her way to make sure we did.

After she first nailed me for not looking her in the eyes while toasting, I thought I would check out what other people did. My survey indicated that most people did not look others in the eye when they touched glasses and said the good words of the evening.

So now when I’m clinking glasses, I remember to say, “Here’s looking in your eye.” Sometimes it takes quite a bit to get everyone to look you in the eye while you are wishing them well. People are a bit embarrassed and not used to getting close via the eyes.

At a meeting recently, we were talking about making contact with people so we could sell a few extra tickets. I maintained that we should go around to people’s businesses and offices and look them in the eye when we made our requests. Failing that, I declared that we should at least phone prospective buyers.

One committee member stated unequivocally she was no good on the phone and had never in her life approached people straight on. As a committee member, she spoke well and argued issues dynamically, but she told us that the Internet was how she wished to approach the world. In the end, she sold no tickets. She refused to look anyone in the eye.

When I was initially hired by Selkirk College, the college had taken on the governance of David Thompson University Centre (DTUC) in Nelson. Shortly thereafter, the government cut off the funding for DTUC. To make a long story short, many instructors were given their notices.

Because of seniority issues instructors at all campuses were affected. I received my notice when the Castlegar campus principal of the time came to my office and looked me in the eye. He outlined the situation, gave me my release, and then told me to hang on as there might be hope. I was shaken by the decision, but I did appreciate the personal approach.

At the Nelson campus, a different principal did not have the courage to face his employees—in other words, look them in the eye. He had letters generated and placed in the instructors’ mailboxes. The instructors came in on one morning, opened their letters, and discovered they were terminated. The anger emanating from DTUC blistered the highway between Nelson and Castlegar.

For weeks now, I’ve been working out in the gym, and I’ve seen quite a number of the same people using the gym equipment. The third day, I started saying hello to a few of them as they entered. Almost all of them walked right by me, didn’t look me in the eye, and didn’t know I said anything. As I examined them closely, I realized I was talking to the walking dead—dead to anything outside the music they were listening to from their iPods and other devices.

I learned that if I wanted to lift weights in an area where these non-hearing types were exercising, I had to walk in front of them, look them in the eyes, and wave my hands to get their attention. Begrudgingly, they unplugged and, somewhat vacantly, looked me in the eyes.

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