Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We are meant to face each other

Growing up in New York City I learned not to make eye contact with strangers. I've talked about the fear I learned in New York City before and this is another aspect of it. It's the way I learned to let my eyes glide over the people walking towards me, or to look down at my feet.

I learned that making eye contact was dangerous, but now I'm doubting that fear. I had many experiences where a stranger would make eye contact and then try to talk to me; once or twice it was a tourist asking for directions. I'd try to help if I could. Sometimes they were begging and trying to get me to give them money, and sometimes I would give them money. Other times, especially when I was alone, I would walk away quickly. Once I remember a guy who just wanted to smile at me. Still, I learned to be afraid of these interactions. I learned that I could get hurt.

How many of you live somewhere with a lot of people, and maybe have learned the same thing? Now that I've lived outside of the city for a few years I believe I've lost this skill; and I'm not sure I want it back.


I believe that our bodies are designed to interact with each other. We're built with faces that are flat, and faces that are full of expression. I believe that we are meant to look into each other's eyes and see how people are feeling, to react and to interact with those emotions and to hear other people's ideas.

Now when I visit a city I see that it takes hard work and focused effort to ignore people. This 'skill' of ignoring the people around us may be necessary in certain situations, but I believe it's hard for me to do because it's not what I'm meant to do. I'm going against my nature. What's easier for me is letting go of that. I'm trying to open myself up to making eye contact - making complete contact, that is, with everyone I meet in my life.

There's this famous scene from the old movie Crocodile Dundee where he says hello to everyone he meets while walking down a crowded street. You can see it in the preview:

It's a funny scene because most people in New York City don't act this way. I don't think it's funny anymore, think it's admirable.

How do you 'see' people in your town?



SL said...

I try to give quick smiles to people I think are safe, mostly women. About half of them smile back. I'm not about to smile at a crazy person.

Janet said...

Thanks SL! I'm not sure how to take your crazy person comment. It sounds like that you determine if you feel safe around people; and if you don't feel safe you categorize them as 'crazy'. Is that a reasonable understanding of your statement?

Earthshine said...

Being back in NYC regularly, i think that it's really important to break down the stereotype that the city is cold and unfriendly. I think that this means looking for opportunities to give kindness, but also being open to seeing it out there, as well as actively working to not let the occasional act of anger or selfishness throw your game. I know that this poses more risk to some people than others, so i feel like i should take advantage of any situation in which i feel safe doing so. I think there's a lot more love in NYC than we think, and we should try to show it! :)

SL said...

Some people who are perfectly normal frighten me as well. When in doubt, stay away.

Janet said...

Thanks SL. I'm sorry to hear that - it sounds like you think of NYC as a very scary place.

To your point Earthshine, I agree. I think the city isn't cold and unfriendly, and probably most cities aren't. It would be great if more people were able to be open and find ways to connect in the city.

To your point about being open in the city 'posing more risk to some people than others' is interesting and seems to hit a little on what SL and I are both talking about. We're so focused on fear that we have trouble seeing each other as people.

SL, it sounds like from your earlier comment (and I didn't ask about this earlier) is that some of your fear is gender-based. So 'be afraid of strange men in NYC' instead of just 'be afraid'. Am I right? I wonder if my own fears are also tied to gender. I am female, and I don't want to be scared of all men. But as is said by the recent #YesAllWomen discussion (and I agree) - I've been raised to be fearful, and my experiences have taught me to be fearful.

SL said...

New Yorkers try to give each other privacy; but if there is an accident and you need help, half a dozen people are right there.

Janet said...

Thanks SL - I think that comment contributes to the 'friendly city' comment above.