This weekend I had nothing planned with friends or family. Going to the lake was not an option because the AC there is awaiting repairs. Thus, I had to come up with some activities to fill my day so that I would not end up a couch potato in front of the TV. It was sort of like another small test run of being retired as a single guy. So, late Friday afternoon I decided to go people watching. As a retiree I will have plenty of opportunities to do that, won’t I?
First, most of my people watching was done in an airport or other public place as a last resort, when I was bored and couldn’t think of anything better to do.
Second, I can recall my egotistic and judgmental self dominating my people watching. I was regularly comparing myself to others whom I would see, e.g., appearance, clothing, physical shape, demeanor, etc. I would sometimes mentally mock others for some perceived flaw or judge them for looking different or acting strangely.
That is not the kind of people watching that I want to do now or as a traveler or retiree. That would be inconsistent with one of my newer “how to live life” intentions: Be Curious, not Judgmental. (I saw that slogan on a T-shirt a few months ago and it resonated with me, big time.)
So, my people watching plan was to ride my bicycle to the local Starbucks, order a cup of iced tea, sit outside in the patio area, then just watch and listen to what was happening around me. Being open to and mindful of what your senses bring in is part of people watching, isn’t it? It was for me. Mindful activity slows the world down while bringing you closer to it.
I did my best to let go of my ego-centered and judgmental mind. Instead, I watched for signs of positive energy from people around me and let that energy lift me. If I sensed negative energy from someone, I tried to feel empathy. I wanted this to be a learning and growth experience for me. I smiled a lot, trying to project my own positive energy.
Sometimes I heard complete conversations although I was not intentionally eavesdropping. For example, one young woman at the table next to me had a series of phone conversations with the speaker activated on her phone! She had to know that everyone around her could hear the entire conversation.
Of course, I saw a lot of what I call phone blindness. One example – a Mom, Dad, and teenage daughter – I could tell that they were tourists – enjoyed their Starbucks drinks while each were staring at their phones. Occasionally they would speak but less frequently would they lift their eyes from their phone screens while speaking. A little people watching will confirm that this seems to be an epidemic in our culture. I hope things change.
My people watching at Starbucks lasted about 45 minutes. I felt somewhat awkward at first – sitting alone while steadily observing things around me. Most solo visitors to Starbucks are looking at their phones or laptops while taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. I do that too but not this trip. Starbucks is a good place to people watch because folks of all ages tend to congregate there. For teenagers, it may be that the coffee house has replaced the drive-in as a place to hangout.
This was a positive experience for me. I plan make it a regular activity. By keeping my heart and mind open to the people around me, and intentionally observing them with a non-judgmental attitude, I felt more connected to them and to humans in general, even though I didn’t know them on a personal level. That’s a good thing, don’t you agree?
Next time I see an older person sitting on a park bench or on their front porch, watching the world and people go by, I’ll better understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.
People watching: Another activity on the list of things for me to do now and when I retire!