Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Alicia von Stamwitz on a Four Minute Experiment

I’ve been traveling recently, from Canada to Paraguay and places in between. Meeting people from different countries and circumstances, I am struck by how quickly we humans connect if we willingly give each other our full attention, even if we do not share a common language. One Ecuadorian woman I met in April, I’ll call her Mayta, spoke Quechua, which I do not understand. We sat across from each other at lunch one day, and soon our clumsy gestures and exaggerated expressions gave way to bursts of laughter. We managed to convey to one another our marital status, the number and names of our children, our shared distaste for certain foods, and our favorite popular songs, taking turns singing short refrains. That evening, we sought each other out and drew pictures in a notebook to continue our “conversation.”

Later, I chanced upon this short video from the Polish chapter of Amnesty International: "Look Beyond Borders."
The video shows natural, spontaneous reactions between people meeting for the first time in a warehouse in Berlin. The inspiration for the video was a discovery by Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who is best known for his work on intimacy in interpersonal relationships. Twenty years ago, Aron discovered that four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact is enough for people to fall in love, or to “bring people closer,” as Amnesty International puts it.

Intrigued by Aron’s discovery, Amnesty paired recent refugees from Syria and Somalia with European citizens, inviting the participants to sit opposite each other and simply look into each other’s eyes. They filmed these encounters, unsure what the results of their experiment would be.

Alicia (Arellano) von Stamwitz is an award-winning freelance author and longtime editor with the religious press whose exclusive interviews and profiles of today's most influential spiritual leaders are published internationally. To learn more,click here.

Watch the five-minute film. What is your own reaction as you witness the various encounters? Does the film inspire you to any action, hope or prayer?

Please share your reflections here.

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