1) Give your seat to pregnant ladies and the elderly

2) Let people exit before getting on (see last week’s post)

3) No eye contact

Everyone who lives in New York City knows the rules to the subway (listed above), but in truth, rule #3 is sometimes broken – either accidentally or on purpose. This week I’m curious – why do we look into people’s eyes? Why does it feel different from looking at their leg, or arm? Are our eyes private – only to be looked at by friends and people we trust? Maybe looking into someone’s eyes allows us to see into their souls? Maybe the reason we do it is just because it allows us to see someone’s facial expressions, which our brains are especially tuned to read (that’s why we put faces on our currency, we’re incredibly perceptive to facial detail).

Maybe the reason we sneak glances with strangers on the subway is because humans inherently need connections – and in a city that can be dehumanizing, sharing a glance with a stranger allows us for a fleeting moment to have a connection – and share a moment with another person.

I’ve been thinking about it all week – I think the real reason we look people in the eyes isn’t because there is something special about eyes, but rather it’s because when we’re looking them in the eye we can see that they’re looking back – and that is what’s comforting.

The Rules of the Subway
  • I’d say that’s the very special something about eyes.

    Looking at someone’s eyes forces the recognition that they are another individual, another person; prior to that, it’s easy to think of the person as an object.

    The person standing in the middle of the subway car is just an obstacle, not an individual with a family, friends, ambitions, etc.

    Forcing a recognition that the other person is an individual is a difficult, and – in the Hegelian sense – terrifying.

  • Dadio

    Good morning guys. I like this topic and you both are correct, as usual. I really enjoy following this blog and reading your thoughts on a weekly basis. I met with a new business associate yesterday and the eye contact was worth noting. We both maintained it well during the meeting and I think it allowed for a greater level of trust to develop quickly. What is happening with people who can’t seem to make or maintain eye contact? How does the inability of making good eye contact effect the impression one develops in a given situation? Is it a skill that needs to be taught like a firm handshake? Do the answers to the above questions equate to what we would see if the eyes were a window to the soul? How will we use those impressions? I realize this goes beyond the subway context but I’m interested in your thoughts. Thanks!