In high school I had a teacher who had a habit of leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes if you came to him to discuss something important, whether it was getting guidance on a paper, clarifying a class concept, or asking for a letter of recommendation. At the time it struck me as odd and even borderline rude, but I think I now understand his motive.
As eyesight goes, mine is pretty horrible. Without glasses or contacts, chances are I wouldn’t recognize my mom if she was standing three feet away. Despite sharing this commonality with bats, I try to go sans seeing aids whenever possible because my eyeballs are so much happier when I do. (So if you’ve ever seen me at the gym, waved, and gotten completely blown off, I’m sorry! You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.)
And it turns out voluntary blindness isn’t all bad.
Have you ever been talking with someone and been thrown off by a facial expression that flickers across the person’s face? The spasm’s source isn’t related to the conversation at hand (maybe they realized they forgot to renew their gym membership), but it causes you to second guess their meaning all the same. Facial cues usually add context rather than detract from it, but regardless, it’s hard to digest content when you’re also trying to decipher five different facial expressions.
And if countenance doesn’t trip you up, other distractions abound: your Blackberry’s blinking red light, people walking by, the TV on in the background…
I’ve realized I’m a better listener, and by consequence a better conversationalist, when I’m looking at the world like Monet must have seen it when he painted Water Lilies. That is to say, mostly blurred forms and smudges of color. Without the visual diversions, more of my awareness falls on what someone’s actually saying and how they’re saying it: their phrasing, speed, inflection, and other elements which can be easy to overlook. I’m less likely to interrupt people or misinterpret their meaning. Communication becomes clearer and more fluid.
It’s like the stories you hear about people who lose one sense and gain heightened sensitivity in another, but obviously I’m fortunate enough to be able to revert back from this temporary state.
Experiment: The next time you’re catching up with an old friend over a cup of coffee, take off your glasses/contacts and let the world blur around the edges for a moment (or if you’re one of those lucky ducks with 20/20 vision, humor me and close your eyes). Is the resulting interaction for the better or worse? The outcome just might surprise you.