There’s something about the way a baby looks at people that’s different. Perhaps its something to do with the fact that for the first year or so they have a fairly limited vocabulary, and their eyes are the window through which they gain their first perceptions of life.
When an adult makes eye contact with another one it is accompanied with years of visual experience, holding on tightly to various insecurities, expectations, stereotypes and prejudices.
As an adult it can often be an overwhelming experience, sitting in a subway surrounded by absolute strangers who all seem to be whispering to themselves “look around but don’t make eye contact for too long”. You can feel the tension in the air when ascending in an elevator as each individual struggles to bear with the agonising 2 minute silence that goes with the journey. Yet seemlessly a baby in the same vicinity finds an exciting avenue for exploration, moving from face to face, oblivious to the awkward vibes that the strangers bodies silently portray.
When a baby is happy to see someone it is evident in its eyes. There is no element of hypocricy or pretence when its eyes light up in recognition. There is no eagerness to please or willingness to satisfy any obligated pleasantries; all that can be seen is genuine excitement.
When a baby looks at someone it can see more than most adults. It carefully analyses each element of a persons face, able to determine if this is a friend or a foe. It maintains a constant stare, paying no attention to the invasion of privacy because it lives by different rules. Innocent rules; rules that allow it to feel no societal pressure of any kind, as it navigates its way through the environment, each day slowly being corrupted by experience.
As the baby grows it begins to learn that certain looks are unacceptable. He begins to see that each look carries with it a specific meaning, capable of being understood or misinterpreted.
So he learns how to look again. He learns to see things the way everyone else see things, and now he chooses his looks carefully.
He notices that how he looks can be the difference between getting something or losing out. He is forced to fix up, look sharp and never cross the road without looking both ways.
His childish look has gone. Facial hair and wrinkles have now become a permanent part of the equation, as he struggles to take pride in his appearance. When he looks in the mirror the person he sees staring back is barely a reflection of his youth. With his old age he has been forced to learn that looks will change, meanings may change; and above all, looks can be deceiving.