The Ministry of Eye Contact

brown-518324_640I’ve been annoying people lately.

I know, I know, I annoy people every day but lately I’ve been doing it on purpose. I have a reason.

I miss eye contact.

In these days where most purchases happen as the customer stares at a little box on her side of the counter and the clerk stares at a computerized scanner and screen on his side of the counter, entire transactions can occur without a single acknowledgement that human beings are involved.

I’m not a fan.

The depersonalizing of simple transactions is one of those erosions of community that leaves us wide open to losing our humanity entirely.

In the name of progress, I can now perform multiple daily tasks that used to require human interaction without ever coming into direct contact with a person. ATM machines. Red box. Self-pay at the pump. Automatic scanners at the grocers. E-portal to make an appointment with my physician. Drive thru at the pharmacy.

I get it. I like convenience. I like saving time. But are we using our saved time for worthwhile pursuits? Are we enjoying deeper relationships with family and friends because we have depersonalized people we used to consider acquaintances?

These are questions I ask myself.

And my small, daily rebellion against the system is to annoy sales clerks until we have established a moment of eye contact.

Sometimes I ask a question, usually a lame one. Other times, I compliment something they’re wearing. Sometimes I just stand silently and refuse to leave the counter until the person finally looks at me. Then I just smile, say “Thank you.” and move on, having reminded another human that we are both human.

Once, when someone in the checkout line repeatedly prodded me with her carriage when it was obvious I was still processing my order, I turned to her, made eye contact, smiled, and said, “Hi. I’m a human being. I take up space. When I’m no longer taking up this space, you may then push your carriage into it.”

We didn’t become friends or anything but she stopped hitting me with the cart and I remembered that I’m a person and so is she.

I was going to search for a Bible verse that illustrates this point I want to make (not a great practice- that’s using the Bible backwards) when I actually realized that I only care about this whole process of dehumanization because of my observations of Jesus.

God reached out to humans by becoming human. He made eye contact with us through Jesus.

God ate our food, rubbed elbows with the crowd, smelled the aroma of fresh-baked bread and the salty, stench of fisherman returning from their labors. He sweat in the heat and quenched His thirst with water or wine. He laughed at our children’s antics and had conversations with people others went out of their way to avoid.

He noticed when a woman touched the hem of his cloak in a crowd and when He acknowledged her, she was no longer a sick outcast, she was a person.

It’s shocking the number of times someone I work with, someone dealing with a crisis, has thanked me for “treating them like a person.” Many of the people I see are in danger of losing sight of their humanity because of mental illness, poverty, substance abuse, or domestic violence. The stories that surprise me most are when they describe how much hurt they receive when receptionists or front-line office staff treat them with disrespect. For people on the edge of their own personhood, these exchanges can be the tipping point in either direction.

The everyday face-to-face eye-contact moments that we took for granted for years actually matter. We belong in community. We thrive in community. We need one another – both in deep conversations and in small glances.

Join my rebellion, won’t you? Insist on making eye contact with the world.

Refuse to budge until you see the whites of their eyes! Be human. Insist on being human and on acknowledging others as human. Make eye contact with the world.

God did.


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    The Conversation

  1. I make a point to say “hello” to each person checking me out. It amazes me how surprised they sometimes look. (And that is out of my comfort zone but so worth it)

  2. Melanie Gibson says:

    I like to chat with the cashiers at the checkout line too and make them smile – a lot of the time, they end up making me smile, too. I’ve learned to get to the grocery store when it is not busy so there is more of a chance of this and the cashiers, the other customers there, and I feel less harried and stressed as we all try to focus on what cards we need to use, what our PIN numbers are, and all the other nonsense that passes for progress these days.

  3. I love this, Lori. Great post. 🙂

  4. Mary Ellen Santaniello says:

    One of the reasons I enjoy my job as a cashier, the biggest reason, is because I get to talk to people. I’ve learned to interpret body language, so I know when to proceed quickly and when it’s OK to engage in a brief moment of conversation. But, in either case, I make sure I smile and look into the faces of my customers. They are human beings created by God just as I am. My goal is to make them feel welcomed.
    The funny thing is many are repeat customers who actually will wait in line until my register is available just to have that brief moment of
    acknowledging each other as special people.
    A dear childhood friend once gave me a plaque that reads:
    “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
    It’s so true.

  5. I’m with you, Lori! I like to force people to acknowledge me, too. I also annoy people by calling them when I am pretty sure they have time to carry on a voice-to-voice conversation. My sister once complained that, every time she texted me when I knew she was at home, her phone would ring. In a few thousand years, humans might not have vocal cords and instead have more fingers on their hands with which to text. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

  6. Carla says:

    I had never paid eye contact very much attention–I make eye contact to show the person talking their communication is important. One day on my mail route an older lady came to the mailbox. We chatted a while and she said ‘I appreciate the way you speak to my face (making eye contact).’ We get so caught up in our daily tasks, like your lady trying to hurry you up by bumping into the back of your legs, Lori, we forget that other people are human. We NEED to be reminded of that. Thanks!