Graham Nash said it best in his lyric, 'A man's a man who looks another man right between the eyes!' It's a simple gesture; looking into one's eyes while shaking hands. Simple, yet profound.
Every Monday at Future Stars, Southampton, we begin a new session. With the advent of a new week, a whole new group of campers arrives eager, yet nervous about the unknown people and surroundings. It can be unnerving, and understandably so. In fact, many of the younger campers are so reticent that they feel compelled to beg their parents to stay with them.
After years of experience running camps, I assure the parents that all will be okay and that their children will acclimate quickly. I describe that the 'band-aid' approach is the most effective. This method consists of walking away from your child, despite the tears and screaming. It's difficult, but experience has taught me that the short-term pain will quickly dissipate and the child will find his/her niche.
It's not as syllogistic as described above, however. It involves a systematic and delicate introduction to the camp dynamic. The counselors are fully aware of the new campers and go out of their way to assuage their apprehension. Additionally, the culture we have created here promotes and rewards more veteran campers when they make an effort to play and interact with the new campers. This helps.
What we find to be most effective, however, is the introduction ritual we carry out every Monday morning. The director of the camp, Shane Flanagan, prompts the campers with open-ended questions related to the proper way of presenting yourself to someone who you have never met. A group discussion ensues and finally, one of the campers volunteers to model the proper way of shaking someone's hand, introducing yourself, stating 'nice to meet you,' and most importantly, making direct and concerted eye contact. We stress eye contact. Proper eye contact informs the person you're meeting that you are conscious of this introduction, and it is important to you. Without words, much is spoken through the eyes.
Following the demonstration, the campers are instructed to stand up and introduce themselves to three people that they have yet to meet. The campers approach each other, extend their hands, shake firmly, state their names, express that it's nice to meet them, and lastly, make eye contact. The eye contact lets each camper sense an innate connection. Acceptance to the group is conveyed. Anxiety dissipates.
This process is critical to the relaxed and accepting environment we have at camp. The act of looking another in the eyes is simple in its execution, yet profound in its interpretation. It denotes that I'm here with you, for you, and we are connected. The eyes are the prism to one's essence, and it communicates to each other that we are on the same level. Graham Nash's lyric, A man's a man who looks another man right between the eyes, breaks down all greeting rituals to the one that connects us most. Our campers feel that connection on a daily basis by performing this simple act. We should all keep that in mind the next time we interact with someone, it goes a long way in enhancing our connectedness. Plus, it's simply polite.