I realised about five years ago that I was making a huge error in my work with children and young people. One of my many jobs, Lottie, is teaching children drama, and when I first started I used to walk in to a room and see a group, and although I knew the names of most individuals, to me they were a group. The thing is, they are and they aren’t, now I try to make eye-contact (proper eye contact) with every child in the group within the first five minutes of the workshop. It sets us off right, I believe.
The other morning, I was part of a team that took fifty (ish) kids out for the day to Kings Cross, London. One little boy, who about ten, decided to walk with me. He chattered non-stop for about an hour. He told me the plots of three films, read out every single poster on the tube, told me anecdotes from life, asked nearly impossible to answer questions and generally provided the soundtrack of our journey from Kent to London. I was responsible for twelve kids and wasn’t always fully listening to his chatter. I’d asked him a couple of times to hold on just a moment to tell me stuff while we got on and off of trains. He did. Then soon started chattering again. My patience was a little thin, and I was about to snap at him, when instead I stopped myself and looked at him, properly. I saw the excitement in his eyes, the joy and the curiosity he had in life, and I immediately felt bad for wanting to snap. Instead I explained to him my concerns of what may happen if I didn’t concentrate properly. He stopped talking for long enough for me to focus on what I was doing: no feelings hurt, no tempers frayed.
I realised at that moment that there are two types of eye-contact. There’s the sort where you’re just looking at someone’s eyes, we do that a lot, it’s polite and demonstrates our interest. And then there’s the sort where you look harder and see what’s in someone’s eyes. I realised how wonderful this one is, and how little I engage it.
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the true way to engage with a person is to take that moment and to look to see. Maybe I sound bonkers, two types of eye contact and all that, but try it some time…Trust.