While I’m an extreme introvert who requires much coaxing in order to engage in social situations 1, I do find people fascinating. I suppose it’s a stereo-typical introvert thing to admit, but I enjoy people watching. When I’m out in a store, at a party, or even in a meeting, I’m able to take a mental step away from my surroundings and pay attention to people’s behavior and social interactions. The origin for this ability is two-fold.
First, it began as a simple survival tool. I experience the presence of others, unless I have the time to prepare myself, as a mental intrusion. The ability to step back was a way for me to deal with these imposed intrusions 2 and give myself the mental space I needed to function.
Second, it was as way for me to feel comfortable with social dynamics. While I am comfortable with these today 3, as a child I found social interplay terrifying. I never quite understood how pecking orders form, or why the barriers which divided social circles were not supposed to be crossed. Kids being kids, my social faux pas were rewarded with the type of shunning only children can perform. So I learned to sit back and watch in order to figure out what I was doing wrong 4.
This habit of “stepping away” from my surroundings has stuck with me into adulthood and I often find myself wondering what’s going on in people’s minds and hearts as they go through their daily interactions. I do need to drop a bit of a disclaimer, however, I’m not some sort of super-empath who is able to step into other people’s shoes on a whim. There are a great many times where I see people as obstacles 5, and my innate social discomfort 6 often works to undermine what empathy I do possess. Even so, I find people interesting subjects of study from a cognitive standpoint. I’m interesting in what makes people tick.
For me, there’s no better place to discern that than in a person’s eyes. Now, there are people who train themselves to disconnect their innermost being from their eyes 7. There are also sociopaths out there who are born with that disconnect already in place 8. Most people, however, never learn to mask their inner-self from their eyes. I’ve seen in people’s eyes the spark of imagination and wonder, the longing of hope, the joy and grief of love, the machinations of manipulation, rage born of deep anguish, and unrelenting pain. I’ve also witnessed souls which have had the ability to dream stripped from them by life, as well as some who feel more comfortable being shallow and so never learned to dream in the first place. A person’s eyes are impossible for me to ignore.
My appreciation for what eyes can show us comes out in the image below. Everything else is shadow but the eyes which, even though they are covered by glasses, are bright. This is what I hope to see in everyone I meet — eyes bright with hope, imagination, joy, and love. And for those whose eyes have become dimmed or dull, I hope to be a presence which can ignite the light once again.
- Especially new social situations. ↩
- Such as sitting in a classroom for hours a day. ↩
- To a degree, anyway. ↩
- And then, as an adult, I learned my childhood screws up were better for me anyway. Now I treat pecking orders with contempt. ↩
- Especially when people drive fifteen miles under the speed limit. Grrr. ↩
- I am able to intimate other people’s emotional states, and it has a tendency to freak me out. More often than not this leads me to blurt out something stupid. The mental pressure felt from the presence of others is an interesting trait for a pastor. ↩
- This is something I find very difficult to do. ↩
- A prospect which I find frightening. ↩