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Aug. 16th, 2004 @ 12:03 am (no subject)
Current Mood: pensivepuzzled
I tried an experiment today in the subway. The task was simply this: to look people in the eye when they looked at me.

I found it about as natural and easy to meet -- and hold -- people's gazes as I would to hold my breath in open air for 5 minutes.

I'm not a liar, and you always hear about how not being able to look somebody in the eye indicates insincerity or deception. BUt it is the next thing to physically impossible for me to look someone steadily in the eye. My gaze, 100% of the time, glides away like a swatch of silk glides off a glass dome, settling comfortably on something safe and inanimate (or at least unaware) and non-piercing, just beyond the object of my intended look. It pretends like that's where it meant to go.

Why is this? And do other people -- does everybody -- have this problem/experience? What does it mean? Is it something I should try to work past, or is it natural, socially acceptable, culturally and psychologically and morally desirable behaviour? What can my self-respect make of this phenomenon?
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Date:August 15th, 2004 09:28 pm (UTC)
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i can't do it either because i'm worried that people will think i'm trying to communicate something. if my expression is blank, it looks like i'm staring, if i smile, it's like i'm inviting them into a conversation that i probably don't have time for. so i just don't worry about it and try to casually move my gaze around and take in the whole picture as opposed to details.
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Date:August 17th, 2004 05:56 pm (UTC)
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interestingly enough, I just recently read something in a book that kind of lends an insight into this subject. In "Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages", Mark Abley says that looking directly into somebody's eyes is actually rude in some cultures -- specifically, here, Australian Aborigines.

It seemed to make sense to me -- if you think about it, looking directly into the eyes of somebody you don't know can come across as very confrontational.

I understand what you're saying about trying not to invite communication, and I think sometimes that's what it is for me too, but moreso in my case I think it's a matter of avoiding confrontation. Which I do copiously. I'm afraid of what their eyes are going to send back to me -- affrontery, or in the case of some guys, I'm afraid of them leering... AND I'm not afraid to look somebody in the eyes when I WANT to give them attitude. If somebody is staring at me because of what I'm wearing or if they're being a jerk, I can give them that "yeah, and!?" look... but under normal circumnstances it just feels wrong on more than one level.
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Date:September 8th, 2004 10:13 am (UTC)
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When I first get on the subway or bus I usually scan the crowd as efficently as possible, because there are only seconds between getting on and finding a seat. I got so tired over the years of not seeing people I knew that were walking by me because my eyes were down I trained myself to keep them up. Always be aware, you'll never be surprised. The problem I have with eye contact in the subways is my face is by default very emotionless, and I'm not comfortable quickly morphing that blank expression into a smile if the person I make eye contact with while scanning is say an attractive person. It's a problem because in any setting it's much harder for me to initiate that spark with someone that could develop into a friendship, even though once an open dialogue has been established with a stranger I'm very engaging and outgoing. That's me..
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Date:September 8th, 2004 01:43 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps... I don't know, but sometimes instead of smiling at people, if my face isn't set for a smile or if I'm not in a smiling mood, I nod to people instead. I think sometimes it's a little more formal and old-fashioned, but it seems to serve the purpose. I don't know if it's as engaging as a smile, but at least it's a way of acknowledging people.

But then, I'm not somebody who easily sparks conversation with strangers, so don't take my word for it. My goal is generally just to be polite, not conversational or necessarily personable. Lately I'm trying more to actively not be anti-social; it's slow-going and difficult though! I just can't understand how people make friends so easily. I don't even really understand how I do it when I do... usually it's somebody else initiating I think.
Date:June 15th, 2005 11:08 pm (UTC)

Don't worry, you're not the only one!

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I think a lot of people subconciously believe that eyes are the window to someone's soul. That sounds a little extreme actually, but I think to an extent it is true. A reason why someone might look away and break this form of interaction, because they feel that the person has entered into their personal space. People often find it uncomfortable when others, especially strangers, are in their personal space. Personal space doesn't JUST include the physical space around you, it can entail your emotional space (or emotional boundaries), comfort level, etc...

Anyway, that's just what I think.
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Date:June 17th, 2005 01:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Don't worry, you're not the only one!

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That makes a lot of sense actually -- I'm very personal-space conscious, so I guess my looking away habit is sort of a response to a double whammy -- the guilt feeling of thinking maybe I've invaded somebody else's personal space by staring at them, and the feeling that my own space is being invaded in turn.

Thanks for your response! It made me feel a bit better about the whole thing. ;)