I asked students in the Group Dynamics course to engage with the title of John Robison’s book, look me in the eye, in order to investigate the meanings associated with eye contact and then consciously link that range of meanings to the notion of indirect interaction. The few students who tackled this challenge in full show how communicating across differences is quite a challenging task. Buckets34 discerned no link but trusted one must exist (to which I’d say, “no, not unless we make it!”) Freshkicks6 wrote:
In class when we commented on Steph writing sideways, she responded with, “Maybe I’m a sideways type of person.” In our culture it is expected (and we have all learned from a similar frame) that when you write, you try to write straight, horizontal, left to right. The fact that she didn’t do this, stood out and allowed us even to poke fun at her about it. Writing straight, left to right, is a cultural norm, just like looking someone in the eyes is when having a conversation. Often times, because someone does something out of ordinary, we like to comment on it and point it out. The author of “Look Me in the Eyes” talks about this often because people either make fun, or just don’t acknowledge his “sideways” behavior, so he never learns to act “normal.”
Several students comment on how the title provides a frame, which Thumpasorus suggests is a kind of proof that people actually think differently:
“Each person’s thought process brought him or her to a different conclusion about the meaning behind the title. After reading the title I thought “[Robinson] meant it figuratively. That is, he meant to say, examine me closely . . . as I read I found there was a double meaning.” I can now see that other people have thought processes different than mine, which can bring them to conclusions equally as valid. Robinson’s thought process certainly functions differently than many of us. This was expressed especially well in his explanation of his smile at the news of a death of a stranger. As we have been slowly been learning since the beginning of the semester, Steph too has a thought process somewhat foreign to many of ours. This was quite clear when she started “writing sideways” in an attempt to express herself graphically, leaving us with confused, amused expressions”
Arturo, a colleague from Business Strategy & Organizational Theory (School of Management), describes the juxtaposition of John’s and my thought processes thus:
I just finished reading your exchange with John Robison. I have to say that it is very interesting at so many levels: from structure and style to goals and understandings. It is like observing a dance where the rhythm is a 2 by 4 where one of you follows the 2-tempo while the other goes for the 4-tempo. Both of you are dancing to the same tune yet an external observer can see the differences in “beat”. On one hand you are articulate and constantly link concepts left-to-right. You use your own voice to bring in your student’s ideas and expectations and frame them in the context of his appearance in the class. Yet during all this process you do not forget your own role as mediator/referee of this engagement. On the other hand he goes linear, ignores the social innuendos. He focuses on personal goals yet he makes a noticeable effort to address your issues as they link to his ultimate goal: awareness on the autistic condition. Nevertheless when all this is happening he is still a curious mind. He seeks to grasp where are you coming from in your interpretation of his world / words as you do not conform to any standard that his linear thoughts would have foreseen (he is a linear thinker while you are a sideways traveler). So far it looks like he has partially moved from seeking/perceiving you as a means to his goal (awareness of autism) to exploring/understanding you as a means for understanding himself. He used your “eyes” to see himself from the outside at a group communication level.
Certainly I can identify with these statements: I perceive similarities in the way John and I approach the world as out-of-the-norm (noted by Fresh and Thump), and I am aware of the differences articulated by Arturo: can a strictly linear thinker and a sideways traveler form enough of a bond to co-construct a common goal? A longer exposition of this question is posted in my teaching blog as I urge students to consider deeply: Audience: to imagine or ignore?