Meeting a person’s eyes

corot woman

Algernon Charles Swinbourne (1837-1909)
Balliol College Portraits: 139 Oil on canvas, 18×13, 1860. Poole number

The face to face encounter and its ethical meaning/implications is at the heart of  the philosopher Levinas‘ thought possibly based on his experience of the Holocaust.He had previously studied with Heidegger which is ironic as Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933.This shows intelligence is not enough in making decisions especially in politics
One day I was thinking over some personal events relating to this.
Before my husband died,I went shopping and then went into a cafe and found myself just behind an ex-colleague whom  I regard [note the word] as friend.I could see her husbandsitting at the back of the cafe.She did mutter,
Hello,but  instead of  meeting me eye to eye and  saying
“My husband wants to be alone”,she went through an elaborate pantomime of mime indicating rejection or keep a distance…which was unpleasant.I would been much happier with a straightforward look and a few words.
Later I had a similar event.I met a woman who used to be my physiotherapist again in a queue.She looked at me full on and greeted me  with pleasure.As she picked up  her tray she asked me to join her and her husband plus a grandchild.We had a pleasant time.But if she had said,we are with our family and want to be alone,or whatever,that would have been fine too.because she looked at me
I am not saying the first woman ought to have done that.But what interests me is the lack of a willingness to “meet” me with her gaze.I  am entirely happy if people wish to be alone whilst the have coffee but I prefer them to say so.I was always in a hurry then and finished before they did.But they didn’t know then about  our problems.
Some individuals with autism are almost unable to make eye contact…. and this is because others are not real to  them; they are afraid.

If we are near someone who will not meet our eyes,it can convey the same feeling.On the other hand,every one has off days and so I feel no anger,just a discomfort as this woman is very articulate and highly educated.I think her husband is  a bit controlling.
So this made me think about Levinas and about Martin Buber‘s I and Thou
There is also an expression,”he looked right through me”which is also a negative way of facing someone.And also,Cutting someone dead.
Essentially not looking at someone is a form of killing them as you imply they are not part  of society.Like not responding  to someone verbally or in writing.You are saying,You do not exist.At one time in  the distant past people did actually die when they were excluded from the community

Eye Contact (

You only have 7 Seconds to Make a First Impression!(

2 thoughts on “Meeting a person’s eyes

  1. That Corot portrait is extraordinarily arresting!

    The first woman you met seems to have been afraid of being seen with someone she knew, at that time and place, for reasons we cannot guess. She was flustered and gave an instinctive response, like those people who hold up their hand to a camera, as though it will make them disappear. The wrong response, perhaps, but, in my opinion, a plausible spur-of-the-moment response.

    1. I did think that later on,as if she were too startled to speak.But it’s better if people can.Still,we should give them the benefit of the doubt.We never know what others are going through even when we are close to them.

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