The term refugee is thrown around frequently these days, as more individuals continue to flee their homes in search of safety, freedom, and a better life.
Unfortunately, when most of us (and the mainstream media) refer to refugees we use dehumanizing language, reducing these people to numbers and statistics. Rather than seeing them for the individuals that they are, we instead refer to them in bulk, describing them in terms of quantity and the amount of resources it will require from us to “accommodate” them.
If we ever found ourselves in their shoes, we would not appreciate having our personal identities overlooked in this way, so why do we do it so carelessly to them?
In hopes of reminding us that these refugees, like us, are real people who have families, friends, dreams, goals, and stories, Amnesty Poland conducted and filmed a social experiment in Berlin.
In the experiment, refugees and Europeans were partnered up and given the simple task of making eye contact for 4 minutes. What happened next was remarkable:
The 4 minute eye contact experiment is based on the research of psychologist Arthur Aron who, 20 years ago, discovered how powerful this practice can be, bringing people closer together within minutes. The video depicts the truth of the research, connecting complete strangers in a scenario that the filmmakers guarantee was not staged.
This isn’t the first time that eye contact has proven to be a remarkably connective tool. In September of 2015 I wrote about a global eye contact experiment (the biggest of its kind) that successfully brought over 45,000 people worldwide closer together.
I’ve also had firsthand experience with eye gazing, although in a very different context than presented in this video. My experience took place at an Eye Gazing Speed Dating event that a longtime friend organized in Toronto. While the romantic element certainly added a unique twist to this practice, what stood out for me were the similarities I saw in each of these outwardly unique women.
It didn’t matter whether they were young, old, physically attractive to me or not, all of their eyes blended into one another and were easy to both connect with and feel love for. It reminded me of the interconnectedness we all share, and that the eyes truly are the window to the soul and a powerful tool for breaking down a lot of the outward judgements we unnecessarily make about each other.
Whether you live in an area currently embracing refugees or not, let this social experiment remind you to humanize everyone. We all have stories and experiences that make us into the unique people that we are, and there is a great power to be had when we come together and share them.
A great starting point is to challenge yourself to break social norms and connect with even a single stranger daily. Getting them to agree to eye gaze with you may be borderline impossible, but show them at least a bit of humanity rather than always being lost in your phone.
It’s time for news that isn’t fear-based, but heart-based; news that fosters connection, not division.
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