People Watching

Many folks I know say that one of their favourite occupations is ‘people watching’.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of that myself over the last couple of weeks.

It seems there are two kinds of people in the world – those who ‘watch’ and those who are watched.

That’s excluding those bodies who seem to be totally oblivious to anything that’s going on that doesn’t immediately concern them.

Like the ‘dangerous walkers’ who ‘middle lane’ the pathway so you can’t get past on either side or ‘tailgate’ you, walking so close behind (without malicious intent) and either collide with you and then make a hasty apology, or actually ‘force’ you to make way!

And those people who annoyingly come to a sudden stop when they go through a doorway, not because they don’t know which way to go but for some other reason such as using their phone or having a conversation with a companion. The fact that they are blocking the traffic is completely beyond their comprehension!

And the ones who stare blankly ahead showing very little sign of life at all! All communication and maybe connection between mind, body and spirit seems to have been lost, or perhaps they just need a ‘reboot’.

But back to the watchers and the watched.

Again, two types of each.

There are those who know they are being ‘people watched’, and those who don’t.

There are those who are overt ‘people watchers’ and those who are covert.

I’m not talking about professional surveillance here. You and I are under surveillance most of the time, especially these days at public events, and just in the street. Directly or indirectly there’s almost always someone ‘watching’ to ‘keep us safe’.

There are other ‘professional watchers’ although many aren’t as good as they should be. Why is it so hard to catch the attention of a waiter or member of bar staff when you need one? Or a shop assistant?

I’m sitting in a café having lunch right now. There are about 30 people here. I can see a couple of covert watchers. The sunglasses (not needed in this light) and the fact that they turn away when I look in their direction is a bit of a give away.

The others are unaware that they are being watched apart from one who knows she’s being watched but not responding. I think she might we quite used to being a focus of attention.

But what’s the point of ‘people watching’?

I’m not sure about the covert watchers, there could be a few reasons, some questionable, some innocent – just ‘something to do’.

The overt watchers, will usually have one of two reasons (or both).

One is sort of ‘academic’ to attempt to ‘figure out’ the people being watched. What’s their relationship? Why are they here? Are they ‘alive’? And so on.

And if you can see or sense them, do they have an aura? Sometimes you can tell that someone has ‘charisma’ as soon as they walk inti a room.

And if you or I are watching for the second reason, do they ‘qualify’ for the next stage?

The second, more constructive, reason, is to get ‘recognition’ that they have attracted your attention and maybe strike up a conversation.

The guy who took me paragliding this morning was really good at this. On the beach where we landed there were a lot of people about. He made it his business to pick out people in the crowd who he recognised as expressing interest. He made eye contact and then struck up a conversation.

I think he made at least three bookings out of that, whereas if he hadn’t been watching . . .

There’s a thin line between ‘professional’ watching and ‘casual’ watching. I guess it depends on the objective – a ‘sale’ or some other sort of connection.

Watching people can be fun, it can be productive, or it can be depressing (If you allow it) as there are a lot of seemingly sad people around – like the couples in bars and restaurants, not exchanging a word, or a look most of the time, and appearing to be totally bored with the whole experience.

Interestingly, occasionally, there will be a response from one of the couple who is perhaps grateful that someone is recognising their existence!

So if you or I are being watched, and when we are watching, the secret is to make eye contact.

It could be the highlight of someone’s day, it could lead to a conversation or just an exchange of greetings. It could lead to a longer term connection or a relationship of some sort. And you never know who they might know . . .

For you and I, constructive people watching can be the first step to something new or different, or the next step on the journey we’re already taking.

Remember that (most) people like to be recognised, they like to know that others recognise their existence – and that, with eye contact, is the first step.

Go ‘watch’.