I’ve cycled or walked by thousands of people in this city: some living homeless on the street, many students, hundreds of tourists with their cameras and guidebooks, and townies trying to avoid all of the others. Occasionally they make eye contact with me, but most of the time they just trundle past me without even glancing in my direction. We turn our eyes to the floor, to our phones, to our watch and away from acknowledging each other.
I’ve begun to wonder – why do we look away?
I started a, albeit very unscientific, social experiment on my bike ride home from rowing to see how many people I passed would look me in the eye. One walked to the other side of the street without even a glance (I will not choose to take that as me looking shady). The other was a professor-type who seemed more concerned that I had been riding my bike past him on a path that has “cyclists dismount” signs posted every 10 feet.
As I’ve been more conscious of acknowledging people, I’ve noticed my own tendency to look away. It’s easier to look down. It’s more natural to distract myself with my phone, not to mention more socially acceptable. No one wants to be the weird staring person.
It makes sense, right? It’s awkward to look at a stranger.
I wonder what the implications for our society would be if we looked each other in the eye. If we didn’t look away from each other so quickly.
I’m not suggesting going around staring at people, but rather that if we have an attitude that looks up and around that it might have a positive impact on both us and those around us. I have learned so much from the people who are different to me. Sometimes the conversations have been uncomfortable or we haven’t agreed – but I am a better, more informed person because I met them face to face and looked them in the eye.
What could we learn from those who are different from us – if we looked up?
What awesome stories or difficult things would we see – if we looked up?
Who could we connect with that we normally just walk by – if we looked up?
What problems could we solve or catalytic networks could we form – if we looked up?
It’s not rocket science or a ground-breaking proposition – but it’s a concept I’ve been pondering lately.
Maybe it won’t make a difference, but next time I walk down the road, both figuratively and literally, I will look up!Back to top of article