The Gaze of the Other
"Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “'Love me.'"
For instance, the phrase that opens this post demonstrates our great need for positive regard from others. So strong is this need that our souls are actually imprisoned by it, though we are almost always unconscious of this fact, or at least burying such awareness beneath our psychological defense mechanisms so quickly that it is easily dismissed. Because of this, I find that it often takes a lot of convincing to get people to see their susceptibility to "the gaze of other." Hence this post, which aims to convince of this very fact, and, once convinced, to suggest how to "use the force" for the good.
Above and to the right is a short video, entitled "Still Face Experiment." In this video, Dr. Tronick demonstrates an infant's (6 month old) need for positive regard from its mother. It begins with the mother giving positive regard, the natural response of a parent to an infant. Then, the mother is instructed to withdraw her attention from the infant, for a brief instant. The mother quickly returns her attention to the infant but with an intentionally nonresponsive countenance. She holds this nonresponsive countenance for two minutes, during which the infant shows increasing signs of obvious distress. The point of all this is to demonstrate that we humans are hard wired for positive feedback from others from birth, and, the more positive the nature of the feedback the better!
Now, you may think that this strong need for positive regard from the other is a necessary requisite of the parent-child relationship that is outgrown as a child develops and becomes more independent. This is certainly not the case. It is the power of the gaze of the other that makes the late teen peer group experience so important (Any even quasi attentive parent can tell you that!). It is the power of the gaze of the other that is behind the multi-billion dollar health and beauty industries. It is the power of the gaze of the other that keeps one on edge in the workplace. It is the power of the gaze of the other that brings conformity to political parties and nationalist sentiments. And, it is the power of the gaze of the other that makes solitary confinement such a powerfully punitive punishment. These are but the tip of the gaze iceberg (which can only be threatened by a warming of hearts, not the globe).
In fact, if one were to develop the practice of introspection when one notices a negative feeling state within oneself, one could very likely trace that feeling state to an experience or thought (memory or imagination) in which one experienced negative regard in the gaze the other. Likewise, when one notices a positive feeling state within oneself, one could very likely trace that feeling state to an experience or thought (memory or imagination) in which one experienced positive regard in the gaze the other. If such a thought experiment remains unconvincing, you could try a real life experiment by delivering a negative gaze to the next person you meet (I DON'T recommend this, per se) and watch for the shift of that person's feeling state. You will quickly come to see the truth of the matter, namely, that from the moment we are born to the moment we die, we are highly susceptible to the gaze of the other. Such susceptibility imprisons the soul.
To recognize the susceptibility one has to the gaze of the other is the beginning of one's freedom. (This is why psychodynamic work is so important on the spiritual path. Spiritual transformation is not possible without psychological freedom, on which more, perhaps, a few posts down the road.) Equally powerful to the experience of becoming free of the gaze of the other is the recognition that follows on the heels of such freedom, namely, that "the gaze" is a dynamic experience between the gazer and the gazee. Since we have been discussing the gazee, let's end with a few words about the gazer.
Given that we humans are so susceptible to the gaze of the other, it follows that to be the gazer is to possess great power ("With great power comes great responsibility!" Egads, two superhero reference in one post. What would my high school English teacher say?!). What, then, shall one do with such power? Shall we look out upon the world with stone cold eyes, prompting negative emotional states in others? Or, shall we look out upon the world with loving eyes, prompting positive emotional states in others? As for me, I think the world is a little too poor in love and goodness these days. I seek to affect the counterbalance...
...to wit, Hafez:
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