Not Entirely Worthless

Christopher Paustian

Of all the high-pressure social situations we are thrust into, I find the one-on-one lazy eye conversation to be a particularly interesting insight into our culture.
As the name indicates, the lazy eye conversation occurs when you are not only alone in speaking to a person stricken by strabismus (proper medical term), but are also circumstantially prevented from excusing yourself.
For me, these gauche situations conjure awkward memories of meeting the mother of my date for a dance during my junior year of high school. Others will remember a similarly awkward instance from a scene in Wayne’s World 2.
What interests me about these situations is the massive amount of effort the non-lazy eyed party exerts in order to give the false impression that they don’t notice anything awry with the other person’s optical functions.
For me, I not only apply myself to appear normally attentive during these conversations, but often find myself mentally replaying the episode later in the day in an attempt to discern any moments during which I may have faltered in feigned ignorance.
Based upon my own trials and the shared experience of friends in dealing with these delicate situations, I have noticed two recurring characteristics.
First, the party not stricken by strabismus often does not do herself justice in representing her ability to effectively answer questions, regardless of how simple they may be. Even if it was her birthday that very day, answering a question of her age would be unusually mentally taxing.
Second, due to the ever-present objective of not committing any incriminating stares at the affected eye and attempting to not sound like an ignorant buffoon when answering simple questions, one regularly cannot remember many, or any, of the topics discussed during the conversation.
I used to think that these defining characteristics of the lazy-eye conversations highlighted certain positive qualities of polite, kindhearted human beings. Yeah, that’s why it was so awkward, because I was being a good person who didn’t want to draw any undue attention to the person’s imperfections.
I was convinced by this outlook for some time, but now I have another viewpoint. While the optically healthy party may indeed be exhibiting kindness through their effort to downplay the malady, the reason why we feel that strong compulsion to be polite is of greater importance.
For better or for worse, we live in an image-centric culture. I am definitely not saying that I’m above it, but, because of our beliefs, we view a slight on someone’s appearance to be of utmost offense.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this, but I still would like to focus on listening to the person rather than on not offending him.