As Americans, we cherish our ability to speak freely, but it can sometimes feel like that freedom does more to divide us than unite us.
But there is one man doing his part to remind strangers of our shared humanity.
Andy Tulett has traveled the country, and the world, with a sign that says nothing but “share one minute of eye contact.”
He will sit silently on sidewalks waiting for people to approach him on his offer. They will sit opposite him and for a full minute they will not say anything— only feel the many emotions that emanate from the experience.
“When you look into someone’s eyes, it kind of takes away all the things which are dividing you, all the things which divide us as people,” said Tulett. “It takes away age, it takes away race, it takes away gender. It takes away any disabilities someone might have, and it just leaves a human being.”
Tulett has been doing this for 10 years, but he acknowledges the awkward nature of the interaction. He says for people doing this for the first time, the first 20 seconds are about as uncomfortable as one might imagine, but after that, he says a sometimes deep serenity takes over.
“We’ve had some people break down in tears. We’ve had lots of hugs afterward,” he said. “The last one we had, we had a lady who told me her sister was struggling with cancer and they’ve been going through a really bad time, and they just really appreciated I’ve taken the time to do something nice for them.”
“The reason eyes are at the core of most people’s emotional experience is because it’s nature’s way of connecting,” said Kevin Everhart, a clinical psychologist and researcher.
Everhart says the eyes are one of the most genuinely expressive parts of ourselves, so when we look into them deeply, we are not only telling someone they have our full attention and that they matter, but we are also telling them we are seeing them for all that they are.
“We’re able to realize our humanity, our shared humanity. And we’re able to recognize that humanity transcends language. It transcends ethnicity, race, culture,” Everhart said. “You know, we share a human experience, and I think having that human connection outside of language and all this superfluous stuff we fill our days with is, I think, is a very important and valuable thing. And I think we need it now more than ever.”
“I think the solution is just to get out there and try and be a bit more friendly, a bit more open," added Tullett. "And I’ve not had a bad experience, not even one in 10 years of doing this because when you put yourself out there and open up, people respond to that."