“Look at me when I talk to you,” proclaimed the exasperated mom to her sullen teenager. Like most of us, she came to understand that visual connection is an important, if not critical, part of interpersonal linking. Likewise, the youngster intuitively was rejecting her admonishment by passively refusing direct engagement, almost as if to say what cannot be seen correspondingly cannot be heard. There is something about the optical handshake that elevates our accountability and dramatically enhances the exchange. So instinctive is it to we humans that children from the earliest stages of development will demand the embrace of eye contact. As they grow into the toddler years, every parent recalls their grabbing our faces with messy, chubby little hands to ensure that our gaze is fixed upon them as they share whatever they might need to impart.
All is not to say that the best correspondents are those who engage in the practice of the lengthy death stare! Glaring, scowling or simply peeping too long rarely leads to anything other than discomfort on the part of the object of the fixation. So painful is it that siblings often cry out, “Dad, Sis is staring at me – make her stop!” There is great power imbued in our countenance. In rightly decreeing that “eyes are windows to the soul,” the great 16th-century English playwright William Shakespeare paraphrased the biblical verse, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It’s from Matthew 6:22-24. If bright and clear, the verse continues, then the person we see is likewise true and strong. Video conference has helped with time and distance, but is there a substitute, for those of us without impairment, for visual contact? Whether a vicious stare down or Burt Bacharach’s more delicate “Look of Love,” it appears that the eyes have it.