How we look at others makes a difference. Do we have kind or judgmental eyes? Do our eyes flutter with faith or shutter with sarcasm? For students who look before they hear, our eye contact is crucial. How we look at everyone–our spouse, our children, our friends, our employees, our employers, our teachers, strangers–conveys our intention.
I remember a case in 1989 when a teacher transferred to our school and joined our English department. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but every time he looked at me, his expression was harsh and cold, as if he had just emerged from spending the night in a meat locker.
One day, in his classroom, I asked him if he liked me.
What do you mean, do I like you? Of course I like you. Why would you even ask me such a silly question?
Well, you usually look like you don’t like me. Your eyes are, well, unfriendly.
We had a frank discussion.
Years before, my son Ben had come home from his first day of 4th grade. I asked him how he liked Mrs. Thompson.
She has kind eyes was his response. This short but matter-of-fact educational gem of an observation caused me to pause. Kind eyes. Kind eyes. Kind eyes. Ben was on to something.
Much has been written about the eyes in poetry, in speeches, in prose. My favorite quotation about the power of our gaze was written by William Blake in the 18th Century.
As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers.
When my father Hugh wanted to interrogate his four children to find out which rapscallion had tasted 7 different See’s Candies and redeposited them back in their little brown wrappers, he furrowed his brow, shrunk his eyelids around his dark brown eyes, and looked accusingly into our chocolate souls. Those eyes were no-nonsense. Don’t lie to me. We didn’t. Confession erupted only seconds after Dad’s eyes burrowed into our little sneaky selves.
The first day of school in my English Honors 11 class usually found me in front of 35 rather concerned pairs of eyes, all scanning for clues about the small woman who would determine the grade in one of the most important years of school. Although I delivered the rules and the syllabus in a firm but humorous manner, my eyes told the whole story.
My eyes will not be arrogant, deceptive, mean, or superior.
My eyes will be kind, hopeful, encouraging, and curious.
My eyes will be probing, perplexed, confident, and happy.
My eyes will let you know what I am feeling and thinking.
Most of all, my eyes will draw you into the lesson, into my passion for books, writing, and speaking.
Clearly, the eyes have it.