• the sight of seeing

Don’t You See How They See?

A look can say a lot, and subcommunication is a whole universe of endeavour that a lot of people don’t seem all that attuned to.

I, for whatever reason, am fascinated by ‘subcommunication’ (preferring the term ‘nonlinguistic communication’) amongst human beings, and have written about it at length. It is one of the main subjects in Social Dynamics – A Human Instruction Manual, and something I wish to expand upon in much greater detail in future writings.

What does a given glance mean?

Which glance? When? From whom? Did they furrow their brow? Did they seem nervous? Were their eyes wide, as though they were surprised? Was it a surreptitious, scouting look, or an unconcerned gawk?

Even though we are essentially awash in glances every day, how much time do we give to ruminating on the finer details of what these glances might mean, and how we can interpret them? Not many people seem to give a whole lot of credence to the subtext of looks they get, but there is so much that can be understood about other people by the perception of how exactly somebody is looking at you; and what happens to them – and what happens to how they are looking at you – as soon as you return a glance; however it is you do.

The space between any two given people can be blown to an infinite divide in some such moments. By which I mean these moments are infinitely rich, unpredictable, and brimming with potential. The infinite divide lies in the infinite possibilities that lay before us at any moment in time, but is made more palpable at the moment we encounter another person whose eyes are trained on us.

Is it someone you know? Does that guy/girlie over there maybe feel a certain way about you? Does he/she like you? Do they mean to cause you harm? Do they have an air of friendliness, or tension, about them?Are they looking at that minor breakout of acne on your face with an air of superiority about them, or smirking at you because you are out of shape? Are they judging you….

There is so much to be read from people’s expressions into the world that they create – even unintentionally – simply by acting in the world. As we behave, we feel, and as we feel: we project. (This is addressed in greater detail in Social Dynamics – A Human Instruction Manual)

Most people are full of feeling, and, very often, are either lacking in the self-awareness and composure necessary to keep those feelings under wraps, feel no need to do so, or are even intentionally subcommunicating things that they would not dare speak – subtly, or not so subtly – out of fear of repercussion of actually speaking their mind. Just because someone does not vocalise the want or will to do something: it does not mean we cannot infer what their wants or will are directed toward the attainment of if we carefully watch how people’s behaviours tell their own little stories about how they really think and feel, like some protagonist in a silent movie.

Every day we walk the city streets, we can see who’s paying attention to us, and who is not. When amongst the rest of the herd, I can see who has admiration for me, and who does not. I see who is wanting to act all alpha tough-guy douche, and by how I act toward them (whether I choose to look at them or not, how I look at them, for how long): I can see how much they really mean it, and how solid or frail that facade actually is. I can see who is open to the possibility of sexual encounter; who is on the fence, and who is clearly not. I can see who is afraid of me, who is afraid of the world in general, and who at that moment in time is feeling bold and brave. You can see the positive life-force energy positively pouring out of some people sometimes, and you may not know what it is about, but you know for sure that that person, for at least a limited time, does not have a care in the world – or, has chosen to entirely disregard them!

It is not only how people behave generally (this is another topic for another day), but the looks on their faces, and the content of their glances specifically that can communicate so much about how that person is feeling at that moment in time which can tell any other given person so much about the parameters of how they are willing/inclined to act in that moment, and the few proceeding it, that amazes me to the point that I can barely contain my excitement for how rich learning experiences some moments can be between two people. And, what is even more strange is that sometimes those two people in question do not necessarily even know each other, and may never cross paths again.

Our faces are like screens that transmit signals across space/time for other people to perceive, process, understand, and hopefully allow us to communicate with more effectively than if we were piles of expressionless protoplasm.

We might not like the fact that we are so infinitely readable, or may not even agree with the sentiment. But, as far as my understanding of human beings go, we are not just entities oriented around signal processing, but we are at least as set up for signal transmission. The fact that we smile in itself is an ineffable, amazing, little natural wonder that, although the simplest action in the human world: can bestow all kinds of good feelings, positive vibes, and communicate intent almost without limit. How someone smiles, at who, when, given what context, can tell someone: they feel generally contented, think you are silly, they enjoyed what they just ate, what you said a moment ago was funny, that they don’t believe you, that they want to kiss you, that you have just picked your pocket, or deceived you in some other manner; on and on.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake once remarked on ‘seeing a world in a grain of sand’. This idea struck me as rather a strange one the first time I heard it. It took me a while to fully come to appreciate, but eventually I came to understand: ‘OK, fair enough, the grain of sand in itself is a tiny, nondescript fairly dull spec of matter in most instances. But! In the context of its history, its surroundings, its constitution, its place in space/time, its relationship to the poet beholding it: its depth is almost without limit, and the apparent simple narrative laid over it by most – giving only a cursory glance – was not due to the unimportance, or lack of complexity, attributed to the grain of sand itself, but due to the lack of keen and discerning eyes from most of those whose perceptual and cognitive faculty it comes into contact with, who are so unwilling to give it the status and credence it deserves.

Sure, we can fail to see all the complexity of the world that is there to be seen and known as we are out in its midst, and pass by people on the city streets as grains of sand pass through open and unconcerned fingers. Or, we can take our time, train our eyes and mind to see the greater depth in what is really there, while trying to understand the world outside of ourselves by not only training our perceptual and cognitive faculties to see and understand what lies outside of ourselves. But, also to understand that what we see, and how we see, alters in response to our view of it. Both how in being perceived as perceivers alters how we are perceived, and by being perceived differently through our apparent disposition; how we choose to see, and how we are seen.

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