It’s a practice New Yorkers know well. People watching. It’s easier to name in big cities with large public spaces. But the truth is we are all people watchers, and practicing it has a significant impact on our human development.
The Early Stages
As infants, we start out with a very me-centered worldview. Everything is new and everything is measured by the way it affects us. It’s a hard habit to break. Some people will go their entire lives knowing nothing else.
During these early stages, we develop an appreciation for ME. We see our fingers and our toes, learn to use our words. We splash around in puddles and see that we have an influence on how wet we get.
It is profoundly important for human development. To see that we matter. To explore our unique emotions and ideas.
But it isn’t enough. Our society has come to value what it calls individualism. Unfortunately, most of the time what we really mean by this is the infant stage of human development. For progressing is not only important for the society we participate in, but for the development of the individual as well.
Something happens at some point. We start to see other people. We’re fascinated by the way they dress, they way the act, and the words they say. A pastor friend of mine says that you have reached maturity when you understand that those other people in the world matter just as much as you do.
We’ve grown up in our own experiences, with our own values and beliefs. What about theirs? What have they done? Why are they doing what they’re doing now?
We are longing for community, to move from a ME-centered world to a We-centered one. The ME is not eradicated but enveloped. It becomes part of a larger puzzle.
People are fascinating. I’ve seen all sorts in all settings. Something in my soul leaps at the idea of them. Their story. The strange coincidence that they are crossing paths with ME at this very moment, that we are part of a landscape together.
This is the beauty of people watching. It awakens our need to belong, to be part of. The need for WE to dominate our perspective.
One fascinating side of this we often miss. In a world of people-watchers, we are not just the watchers but the watched. The same people we are observing are observing us.
This is the great opportunity that happens when ME collides with WE. Each of us has the ability to influence others, to be a part of shaping the culture of our communities. WE is not just an experience of observation but of participation. All of us are blessed to be on both sides of influence.