At daycare when I was five, another kid named Diana turned to me near the swings and said, “Do you have a staring problem?” I was embarrassed and likely either didn’t reply or said something awkward . . . but as I’ve replayed the memory in my mind over the years, I’ve decided that my response should have been, “yeah, definitely.” So what if I love people watching.
Time would lead me to form a significant bond with the coming-of-age comedy “Harriet the Spy”, which prompted me to keep a spy journal that I took semi-seriously for about a year. During recess, if I wasn’t building fairy houses in the tall grass with my best friend, playing kickball, or swinging, I would be posted up somewhere recording my thoughts and feelings about the world and people around me.
Over time, my people watching has evolved. For many years now, I have involuntarily practiced a mental exercise where when I’m in a grocery store, park, library, or similar space, I will sometimes focus my attention on observing the people around me. I like to take in what I can about body language and social interactions, noticing mannerisms, expressions, style, tone, gestures, etc. I think about how some people are having good days, while others are experiencing the opposite. I consider how many people (all of us?) are likely living in a space between good and bad. I think about how many people we pass by as we go through our days. On the road and sidewalks, in hallways and aisles. This leads me to reflect on how we are all unique individuals leading complex lives, how we all have so many stories we could share, and how many stories we will never hear. I think about how wrong any of my assumptions about someone’s life might be, often recalling the words “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me” in my mind.
While sure, people watching is entertaining to me, it extends beyond that. It’s less of an investigation and more of a way to open myself up to the details of my surroundings and learn about humanity and myself in my reactions to what I observe. It helps me remain in the moment and helps keep it teachable. It helps to slow me down, and keeps me connected to the big, wide world around me, rather than buried in the isolating world of my phone screen.
So, I do have a staring problem. And I’m okay with it and know I’m not alone. Fellow people watchers, what can you share about your experiences?
Holding you in my heart on this somber day,