By: Shannon Shull
There can be an art to people watching. If you are a non-judgmental people watcher, then you watch and you ponder. You ponder why they are where they are, what they do for a living, what hardships they may be going through, what heartbreaking or joyful things may be lying under their surface, what their real lives are like. You don’t pass judgment based on how they look; you just ponder what their world might be like.
In working my way through SC’s PACE Program to get my teacher’s certificate, I have spent my share of time in public places like Starbucks, the library and even poolside as I attempt to read all the required material and write the many required papers and journal entries. These public places help hold me accountable to get my work done and not fall asleep, but they also provide a sometimes welcome distraction to people watch.
The key to people watching is to not judge the person by their cover. I learned that lesson long ago during my days of living in Los Angeles. At times, you could walk into a restaurant and the fella dressed in sweats and sneakers would be the wealthiest and the fella with the gold Rolex and sharp suit would be the most hard up for money. In my lifetime, I’ve met some men and women who were literally covered in tattoos who had hearts of gold and would give you the shirt off their back. And on the flip side, I’ve met straight laced, preppy, supposed Christian folk who, underneath the façade, were the most hypocritical, messed up people I’d ever met. I have friends of all shapes, colors and sizes and they are all beautiful in so many different ways, inside and out. So throughout my almost 40 years of life, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: that to pass judgment without knowing a person’s story is an incredible injustice.
If done from a non-judgmental point of view, the art of people watching can bring a smile to your face and warm your heart if you allow it. Consider what special talents these people may have, what they offer the world, what their passions or dreams may be. There are benefits to people watching – you may be inspired and reminded of just how precious and short life is. And, the best benefit of all, you may just make a friend.
One day during one of my intense teacher training, I had to read a torturous book. We’re talking material that could easily help you fall asleep. One of those books in which you find yourself having to read a paragraph 4 times before it actually sinks in.
Well, staying at home was not going to get me anywhere with that book except with my face flat in the book, sound asleep, so I decided to go to the neighborhood pool to read, in hopes that the activity at the pool would help keep me awake. As I watched the people at the pool – the mother fussing at her daughters for playing too rough, the two older women reading books that were clearly giving them a fabulous escape, the mother struggling to wrangle her toddler and keep him happy, the father constantly on his phone, the teens chatting about tans and boys, and the older gentleman splashing about having a blast with a group of young ones. I sat fascinated by the life happening around me.
My insecurities got the best of me and I wondered what these people may be thinking of me. Eventually a lady came by and said to me, “So what college do you go to? What are you studying there?” She thought I was a college student! Woo hoo! Now she could’ve assumed that I was an older college student, but nonetheless she thought I was a student. I smiled and told her I was a teacher and attempting to do the required reading for a big training. She had made an assumption based on what she saw. Our conversation led to a friendship. She too was a teacher. It was a lovely moment. I later saw her at a different pool visit. I had four kids in tow, two of them my own, and she definitely saw me in a different light.
Life is interesting. And people watching can be an experiment to challenge you to think the best of people, trying not to make negative assumptions or pass judgment too quickly. And, if you’re lucky, it can provide an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised by another human being and you might even make a new friend.