Why Eye Contact Matters

While in college, it was required that I take a Transcultural Nursing course. Interestingly to me, Appalachia had it’s own little section devoted to what makes mountain folk so unique along with the corresponding patient care considerations. The part that stuck with me most is that the text claimed Appalachians avoid much eye contact, and that large amounts of such can be viewed as aggressive or over-bearing.

I’m not going to patronize my people. Perhaps some fancy Yankee writer went down into the mountains with his designer man purse and penny loafers. A bunch of hillbillies may have noted his obscurity and just avoided eye contact; after all, our mamas told us it’s not polite to stare. Maybe that was it.

But let’s consider that the writer may have actually been onto something…

A quick refresher (or introduction) etiquette class teaches us the 60/40 Rule when it comes to eye contact. Thus during a conversation, 60% of the time we are to show interest by looking into the other person’s eyes, and 40% of the time we are to shift our focus to other parts of their face or ever-so-briefly about the room to keep from being strange or threatening. Why is this so important? Proper eye contact communicates conversational engagement; it says that you’re an active listener, considerate, present, and sincere.

If the Transcultural Nursing text was correct in its suggestion, then I’ve got to wonder why the very considerate and sincere people of Appalachian origin evade eye contact… and a perhaps even offer a possible explanation of the phenomenon.

North America’s oldest mountain range has long been compared to a third-world country in regards to its social and economic pitfalls. Historically, our profitable opportunities have been extractive and exploitative, and populations have dwindled as jobs have run dry.

A quick Google search will reveal that the Huntington, WV/Ashland, KY area (I was born in one and resided 16 years in the other) has been identified as the “Most Miserable Place in America.” Don’t kill the messenger—I obviously don’t agree, as I have talked a length of my charmed childhood. However, it is based off of a survey of varying self-reporting statuses including health, finances, and educational experience, as well as markers for hope, depression, worry, and feelings of future prospects. I’m concerned that in regards to emotional health, no other part of the United States scored worse. How does this relate to eye contact? Well, if you’re always “down and out,” then so may be your gaze.

Depression isn’t a sin—Jesus even spoke of how He was sorrowful at moments (ex: Matthew 26:38, Isaiah 53:3). Yet, God’s plan for us is never to remain under the crippling grips depression. We must not yield in our faith in a future full of Christ’s saving grace and the Almighty’s glory.

So what are the “care considerations” and how do we address the underlying issue of absent eye contact in Appalachia (and the world)? If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then let’s reach their souls… Let’s feed them the love of Jesus.  If it doesn’t work the first time, let’s try again, and again, and again…

My friends, my confidence—our confidence—should come from our identity in Christ.   While the world says we need to chase our desires and “find ourselves” to live a full life, Christ says that if we wish to save our life, we’ll lose it—and if we lose it for Him, we’ll save it (Luke 9:24). Love God, love people, and when the suffering that comes from living in this world comes your way (as it sure-as-rain will), then offer it us to Jesus—The Great Physician, the Healer, our Constant Joy.

I’m not so concerned with the 60/40 Rule. In an upside down world, our gaze should never match.   We should always be looking up to Heaven (Psalm 121:1-2). Look up for Direction; look up for Peace; look up for Confidence; and look up for Joy.


I’d hate to leave anything unsaid….

Please Note:

-I have zero doubts that a man-purse is extremely convenient. Also, I love penny loafers…. Classic!

-Clinical depression is a serious matter. If you need help: tell a family member, a friend, a pastor, and/or a doctor. Jesus puts these people in our lives to help us because He loves us. Yes, He loves you. He loves me. How special is that?

God bless!

Referenced Verses:

  • Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38 NIV
  • He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:3 NASB
  • For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. Luke 9:24 HCSB
  • I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2 HCSB

Author: Neena

Neena is a Kentucky wife, mother, and beekeeper. Her first novel, THE BIRD AND THE BEES, is a Christian contemporary romance available now. Visit her at wordslikehoney.com.

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