When we meet a random person’s gaze on the streets, we often hold it for a few seconds, half-smile, or immediately avert our eyes elsewhere without so much as a blink.
When we meet their gaze, we tend to think: Are you going to bump into me? What are you looking at? But the other person may or may not be thinking the same thing – eye contact is interpreted differently among cultures.
The saying goes, “eyes are the windows to the soul”. Can we figure out a person’s personality just by looking into their eyes? Maybe. Maybe not.
Looking someone straight in the eye is a mark of respect in the Western world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young person looking up to an older person or a mature person having a conversation with someone much younger. The general consensus here is that holding the other person’s “Look at me” gaze while talking to them means you’re listening and telling the truth.
On the other hand in many Asian cultures, brief bursts of eye contact are considered polite. To some Asians, sustained eye contact can be a scary thing – the person looking them directly in the eyes comes across as aggressive, threatening and imposing. In the Western world, Asians who make little eye contact time and time again are mistaken as shy people when they really aren’t and their behaviour is due to cultural attributes.
And there is always, always the possibility someone is good at acting, good at holding someone’s gaze while telling tall tales on the tip of their tongue. Eyes can be indeed deceiving.
There is every chance some Asians occasionally find themselves guilty of staring intently at non-Asian eyes. When I moved back to Melbourne from Asia, for a while I was mesmerised by light-coloured Caucasian eyes and ogled at them. Perhaps some Asians have “white fever”, can’t help but stare and get lost in blue, green or grey sets of Caucasian eyes – and maybe stereotypically assume just because Caucasians are “pretty”, they are classy and esteemed.
Once again on the subject of minimal eye contact, admittedly it’s sort of difficult to read a person’s character if they have a pair of sunglasses slapped over their eyes. When the sun’s shining in Australia, sunglasses or sunnies are all the rage. Yes, they shield our eyes from the harsh sun but it can be hard to tell if a person wearing them is listening or looking at you. I’ve always wondered if people wearing sunnies walking towards me in my path do ever see me.
Then there are some of us who regard those with sunnies on as suspicious and shady people to avoid. I guess this is usually so when we see people wearing them indoors or at night, times when sunnies are usually unnecessary.
Our eyes function in two ways: eyes let us look at others, and eyes let others look at us. When we’re with friends or people whom we love or are close with, regardless of race, eye contact with one another generally comes naturally. We’ve known these people for a while, are comfortable around them and sometimes can tell exactly what they’re feeling – and they what we’re feeling – just by looking into their eyes.
With strangers, it’s hard to tell their thoughts or emotions simply from gazing into their eyes. We barely know one another to make a judgment and eyes don’t tell the complete story of our lives.
Ultimately, it’s fair to say eyes are hazy, tinted windows to the soul in many moments. Or maybe only.
Do you hold or avoid eye contact with those around you? Do you wear sunglasses?