As someone who studies colonialism and post-colonialism, I'm often thinking about "Le Regard de l'Autre" (the Other's Gaze). How do we perceive others, and how do others perceive us? When misperceptions take place, what is actually the root cause of them? Perhaps the real problem is that we're not willing to look our neighbor, the one we call the Other, the one who certainly is nothing like ME, straight in the eye. Instead, we cast sidelong glances or make eye contact only to look away...
Aside from my area of study, several recent experiences have prompted me to do a series of blog posts to reflect on this idea... the Other's Gaze.
To start, let's consider a warm-up activity my improv theater group does from time to time. Pick a partner, any partner, stand facing each other, about two feet apart, and look at each other directly in the eyes... first, just to SEE them. Your eyes can wander a little bit on their face, but the point is really to lock gazes. And the exercise lasts for about five minutes or so, just this first part. Let me tell you, it's not easy. The immediate reaction is nervous, twittering laughter, followed by looking away. How often do you truly lock eyes with someone you hardly know, and when you do, how long does that eye contact truly last?
For the second part of the exercise, an emotion is chosen, and you have to continue looking into each other's eyes, only this time you're communicating something... anger that this person has just stabbed you in the back, happiness that you are finally reunited with a long-lost friend, sympathy for a friend who has just lost a parent. It's really hard to sustain what feels like a genuine emotion through extended eye contact.. but there really is so much that can be communicated there, if we just look. I need to practice looking with compassion, rather than a critical eye. And I guess we all could do better at that, huh?