I admit it. I watch people. I am the guy in the corner of the restaurant who you think might be eavesdropping. I am. It is not because I am trying to be creepy. It is because I have never truly understood people.
I will say it has had a profound effect on my life. I often find myself more forgiving than those I know, more understanding than others in my circle of friends. I think it is because I watch, because I listen.
Today held a great example of where listening as an outside observer caused me to see a situation totally differently than those involved. I had a table near me with an elderly couple sit at it. Prior to their arrival the restaurant had been mostly empty, like it always is early on Sunday mornings.
The wait staff, a friendly and most often upbeat group of women, had been discussing some interpersonal problems amongst themselves, and seemed a little less positive this morning than usual. The morning activity was slow, and when I arrived I was the only patron. I tried not to listen to what they were talking about, but instead focused on what I could see of their facial expressions behind their masked faces. I could see occasional burts of laughter that hid what I believe to be faces of frustration and angst.
The older couple arrived and sat near me. Their discussion began immediately on the topic of when they had last been here. They could not agree. She thought it has been quite a while, and he thought they had been their quite recently. They both conceded that their memory was not what it used to be.
As the waitress to their order the woman asked for tomatoes as a breakfast side, to which the waitress told her it would be an up charge. Both of them looked shocked. The man said “wow,” in quite a disdainful way. The woman said what can I have?
You could tell from the furled brow the waitress felt a bit shamed. The tone changed from the couple. They were grumpy now, and were not being as pleasant, and the server could sense it, and her brow furled more.
As she completed taking their order and walked away the couple talked again. He was insistent that this up charge had not been in place last time they came. She was certain they had gone somewhere else. Then came the gem. The reason he was angry was not at the servers surprise up charge. It was actually because he could not remember when they had last been here. He was mad about his memory and made a comment or two about other things he had forgotten just this morning.
He was vulnerable with the person he trusted, but could not convey that same vulnerability to the person who was serving him. Instead, he put on a mask of annoyance and pushed the waitress away and into deeper frustration.
I am a writer, and a people watcher. I have seen it a thousand times. A situation brews because people act in unsuspecting ways. They hide their vulnerability and present an entirely false front, often one that increases distance socially from those around them.
This is why watching people is a part of my process. People are real, unpredictable, and often confusing to me. I can however observe them, and find reasons for their seemingly random behavior. I am also on the spectrum, and often have difficulty understanding people’s motivations anyway.
This observation has reminded me that people are all that really matter. The trappings we create in our lives are just the channels we use to connect with other people, and ultimately how we present ourselves for connection or disconnection with others.
So remember this. Perhaps the person in the corner of the coffee shop or diner is not a creeper, but instead is someone who has a deep respect for the things that make us different, and simply wants to understand it better.
Happy Sunday friends.
Brian M Kennedy