The Sport of People Watching
by Christie Perkins
My 2nd favorite sport is people watching. Yeah, you know, the sport of sitting in a public place and watching how people figure it all out. I’ve never really understood the technicalities of football or the thrill of shopping at a hardware store. Meh. But, I do like lame situations to engage in the sport of people watching.
To people watch is quite entertaining. I’ve learned a great deal about life. Like how crusty words really sound. How parents handle mini pent up two year old tornadoes. How to scream and get what you want. Or have a meltdown when you don’t. How to strut. How to wear t-shirts mid-gut (but I won’t). Flop, flab, plop…nope. People watching is a tool to help us decide what to do in our own situations.
It can be quite inspirational. What effect does people watching have on you?
Several years ago I went to Ace with my husband. Yeah, a hardware store. I know… boring, right? And since I’m not really thrilled with selecting tools: I mean really, there’s no frills, no lace, just rows and rows of metal fingers, so I opted to hang out in the car with the kid. I would much rather get sweat rings and matted hair than drag my feet in the anticlimactic yard care corner.
So, since he was taking forever I took up the sport of people watching. People trailed in and out. Some hurried, some took their time but they all seemed to want to be at the Ace Hardware store. Whatever. I was happy where I was hanging out in my car oven. To each their own.
So when you people watch funny things are bound to happen. I was blessed enough to catch a moment. I glanced back at the kid, he was still sleeping.
I looked up in time to see Mr. Distinguished Squat Man exit the store with a cart full of cement mix bags. They would have been heavy to lug over his shoulder. He was smiling. (I would have too, to be leaving) He must have enjoyed his time there. Some people do, I guess.
React to Situations
But my funny bone triggered a reaction when I saw that one of his bags ripped open and was leaving a trail, like Hansel and Gretel. But for the yard fanatic it was a cement dust trail. I imagined other hardware shoppers following the trail to his home with glittering eyes just to find out there was a dreaded project. No thanks, I’d prefer roasting here in my easy bake oven.
But, it was the expression on his face that killed me. It clearly said, “do-de-do-di-dah.” I know. It’s not that funny but when the funny bone reacts it runs rampant.
I giggled and my smile ran wild. The baby slept on. I kept watching and enjoying as the scene unfolded. Somewhere midstep he noticed his problem. He looked left and right and under. Wire baskets don’t catch much.
Totally worth the sweat rings. Man! Where’s the popcorn? Actually. I could probably go inside and get a bag. But, I’d miss the show.
I busted up as he frantically looks for some catch-all smack-dead-plop in the middle of the parking lot.
Then suddenly my people watching skills expanded to the other players in the scene. My mood flipped.
Reconsider your Reactions
People walk right past him. Could they really not see him? He was hard to miss. Really, here’s this grown man building cement powder sand castles in the middle of the parking lot and no one sees him? People, after people, after people passed without helping him. I saw how they slightly turned their heads the other way, pretending not to see. I couldn’t believe it. I could actually see them consciously avoiding him. My mood plummeted.
Yeah, so my humor is bipolar.
My husband arrived back in the car with my mouth gaping open. “You wouldn’t believe what I just saw,” I said.
He looked at me and his eyebrows raised.
“Some poor guy had a hole in his bag and people just walked on by. I actually saw people turn their heads,” I said.
Then his next statement hit home. You know that moment in the universe when everything stands still? When you think you have life all figured out? Then a new door opens as you are running full speed then Wham! The screen door knocks you on your back side. Didn’t see that, did yah?
See Your Role in the Universe
“Well, what did you do?” he emphasized the word ‘you.’
Wham! Screen door.
Ah, dink. Clink, clink. I realized something. I was worse than them all. I had taken myself out of the equation. Here I was judging them for not jumping in and helping and look at little old me growing sweat rings and things and poor cement powder guy is floundering. I even laughed.
I didn’t realized that I was contributing to the people watching problem. And that’s the problem with people watching. I didn’t change the world that day… but it changed me.
Next time I was committed to do something. Anything. You can’t make a difference by letting life roll on past you, but you must pass through life with roles that make a difference. Be a friend.
Enjoy people watching but go the extra mile: be a friend to a stranger. Go ahead, offer your useless help (two useless people feel much more comforted than just one), lend a hand, laugh together. Just do whatever you’d want someone to do for you. At first you may want them to ignore you but rethink it: make your moments monumental. Connect.
There are moments all around. See them. Change the course of a day for a stranger (or friend). Go ahead and people watch. But make some amazing plays; change the game.
4 Simple People Watching Pitfalls: How Not to Impact the World
When people watching turns crucial here’s 4 tips on how not to make a difference. Yeah. Here’s what not to do:
1- Make up excuses. We all use and believe them with the most common one being: I don’t know what to do. That’s so lame (even though it’s probably very true). Don’t think big, think small. There’s no room for excuses in the littlest of moments. It may not feel big to you but to them it will. Trust me.
2- Judge others for what they don’t do. Words enter head like: I can’t believe no one helped them. Someone else can help better. Quit passing the buck- you can make a difference even if someone else appears to be more capable. No one can fill the holes that you can. Guaranteed.
3- Ignore your thoughts to help. I do this all the time then kick myself when I realize there was a reason I was thinking about someone. Enough said- act immediately on thoughts to help.
4- Sympathize only in your head, don’t use audible words. This pitfall is easy to do. People need to know you care. And the same is true of success- people need to know that they are doing okay. Practice in your home then try it in your people watching excursions. Have fun lighting up faces with words, not thoughts. Thoughts actually don’t count when no one can hear them.
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