Today a short documentary was shown of a famous autist Daniel Tamett. During the remarkable interview with the man who can learn a new language in a week one thing stroke me: he said that he had great trouble looking people in the eyes.
I have this “problem” also. I don’t think I have ever told anyone. So, since I’m getting older and need to be less ashamed of not being cool… let’s write it down.
It’s not to an extent where I meet with someone face to face. I know I have to look people in the eyes and I do this without much troubles and probably just like you I move my eyes to the right or left when I need to think things over since staring in someone’s eyes somehow distracts me from my thinking. And probably just like you sometimes in some situations it’s harder to look someone more dominant in the eyes and we can use tricks like staring to someone’s forehead or just be every active in your line of thought. And yes I have had enough “life or business enhancement” courses where the value of looking into someone’s eyes are discussed over and over again along with the list of tricks.
However, this is not my problem. I have trouble looking into someone’s eyes when I’m in a room full of people and someone is talking to e.g. a classroom, in most cases I simply cannot stare the tutor in the eyes. Or even when I’m in a large hall with hundreds of people, all the way in the back: I can not look at the person who is talking to the hundreds of people. Somehow it’s not possible for me. When I try to look it feels like I’m putting my eyes in a flame, I have to retract and look at something else, how impolite that may seem. Logically it’s totally ridiculous because the person who is in front of the audience probably doesn’t even notice me.
I remember the talk Daniel Denett gave in Nijmegen, I thought it was when the academic year was opened. I knew it would be a bad thing for me to go there since it would probably happen again, but I really wanted to see him especially since I studied Cognitive Science. There were hundreds of people present and I decided to sit even behind the last row, because maybe it would be possible for me to take a glance at him. But somehow I didn’t succeed. I sat there but just couldn’t look.
In classrooms, because they are more intimite, I have discovered that it depends on the person who is talking to the room. I noticed during the years that I’m very sensitive to words. If the tutor is using words which are somehow are associated with controversial themes that would touch me personally I suddenly loose the flow and I’m just staring at my desk, drawing lines or something (or just pretending to make notes). It’s really impossible for me to look. It also made it hard for me to follow some courses with a smaller set of students since it is really weird when the teacher tells something important, 5 students are looking very interested at what he is saying and me, just staring at my desk as if I would be totally uninterested while the opposite is the truth.
It probably has to do with with the primitive hard-wired coding of one of the usages of our eyes: 2 apes staring at each other, where the dominant ape stares the longest and the losing ape turns his eyes away. But then again, even when I can give a logical explanation on why it happens. “the dominant ape effect”, it’s impossible for me to look.
Strange isn’t it?
I have however during the years learned some tricks: One of them is preparing very well for a class or a conference, even to a madman’s extent: finding out the bio of the teacher, the background and to prepare for the story (Google is a life saver). Maybe it’s a sort of trick to find some weak spots and making myself stronger to oppose to the dominance, just preparing very well. Another is really diving into each line the person says and thinking of it like mad in multiple threads at the same time, as if I need to build a complex brain flow very quickly so my brain is so busy it overrules the primitive eye-to-eye contact. It has however the downside that I may seem to be in some kind of other world when a question is asked, but I learned to look dumb during the years so the effect is less.
It’s weird stuff I wonder if there are any other humans on this earth who can be in a room with hundreds of people, all the way in the back, and still can not look at the speaker or that I’m a specific one of a kind fool.
Let’s see if I can elaborate on myself some more in the following blog years, to see if I can get to know myself somewhat better.