While many cultures frown upon direct eye contact, it’s long been seen as a symbol of honesty, integrity, even dominance, in the western world. And, although children are generally taught that it’s rude to stare, that hasn’t stopped them from engaging in a time-honored childhood ritual known as the staring contest. Whether in a classroom, on a playground, or any other place children congregate, it takes neither strength nor wits, just pure concentration.
To successfully conquer one’s opponent, the need to blink must be supressed, lest you lose the contest (not such an easy task if one suffers from dry eyes). Often, various tactics are employed in an effort to get the opponent to lose concentration, whether it be funny facial gestures, telling jokes, or the most devious tactic of enlisting a cohort to create a distraction. Of course, there were always those that seemingly wouldn’t blink if you hit them in the head with a shovel.
To hone the required skills, a resourceful child could practice on siblings and parents, or more formidable opponents like the family pet. Of course, it’s important to remember that many members of the animal kingdom don’t take too kindly to direct eye contact, but Rover often could outlast even the most focused of humans.
Rude or not, the staring contest remains part of our collective culture, as it has for decades, if not centuries. If you have any fond recollections of these infamous stare-downs, we’d love to hear about it in our comments section.