Friday, April 7, 2017
--- Peoplewatching ---
"Just as a birdwatcher watches birds, so
a peoplewatcher watches people. But he
is a student of human behaviour, not a
voyeur. To him, the way an elderly
gentleman waves to a friend is quite as
exciting as the way a young girl crosses
her legs. He is a field observer of human
actions, and his field is everywhere – at
the bus-stop, the supermarket, the
airport, the street corner, the dinner party
and the football match. Wherever people
behave, there the peoplewatcher has
something to learn – something about his
fellow men and, ultimately, about
Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching
Everybody is a peoplewatcher. It's ingrained. We know about ourselves largely from watching others. We used role models to model ourselves and we are reflected by other people. We understand ourselves by paying attention to others' reactions to us. Like most animals, we are intensely curious about the people around us. It makes us happy to see other people who are happy. When we see someone injured, there is the skin-crawling sensation that something has been done to us. Also, like most animals, we can learn how to do things by watching others do them.
And, if we're not careful, we can learn errors from others. How many people have been hurt intensely by others treating them as unimportant? There is a common demonstration game called "Goat". It is common in sociology and communication classes and I have even used it as a Sunday School teacher.
In Goat, one person is selected out of a group to be the goat. I usually ask for volunteers. Everyone in the group is told exactly what will happen. Everyone knows that the whole thing is completely contrived. And everyone knows that there will be a debriefing session afterward. As you will see, there has to be a debriefing. Then there is a conversation and the goat is very definitely and pointedly excluded from the conversation. People in Goat groups are always so surprised at how painful it is to be the goat. The debriefing is actually a healing session - it is always needed. Other people are intensely interesting to us, even on a subconscious basis.
It is too bad that modern courtesy prescribes not watching other people. It doesn't eliminate peoplewatching. People still do it; they're programmed to do it. They just do it subconsciously and, therefore, there are always unexpected consequences - bad unexpected consequences. How much better would it be if people were knowledgeable and practiced students of humanity - if we strove to understand each other?
I won't talk about my peoplewatching experiences because they concern other people and, unless I have the others permission, I don't talk about them...usually. When I do, I try very hard not to make others identifiable. But I will recommend some books to read before going out on an intentional peoplewatching expedition.
The author of the quote at the beginning of this blog post, Desmond Morris, wrote a serious of "Watching" books: Peoplewatching, Bodywatching, Catwatching and Cat Lore, Dogwatching, Horsewatching, Animalwatching, Babywatching, and Watching. The earlier Manwatching was expanded into Peoplewatching. I would also recommend Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson's "Animals in Translation," an intimate look at the inner lives of animals.
Most urban excursions involve ensembles of both humans and other animals and their intricate interactions. You really can't just watch the humans and understand what's going on. I would suggest reading up on the communication strategies - both verbal and nonverbal - of all the people you will be exposed to. For instance, on Bear Creek Trail, I am very likely to meet humans, dogs, or horses, and sometimes very personable squirrels and cats. They all play their parts.
Then there are mountain lions around here. I certainly want to know what they're thinking. We don't have problems with mountain lions attacking bikers and joggers like they do in some parts of the country, but they are here. It amazes me how similar the behaviors of mountain lions are to pet cats. I knew a mountain lion named "Prince" at the camp I used to work at. They had a wild animal rehabilitation unit and Prince was one of the inmates that could not be released into the wild. He didn't have the skills to fend for himself and he was far too used to having humans around. But I could tell very little difference between the way Prince behaved and the way all the other cats I have ever known behaved. Of course, the very big, real, material difference is that, if a house cat scratches you in play, you bled a little; if Prince scratched you, you bled a lot.
I've also made it a point to understand bear "language". I haven't run into a bear around here, but, again, they are here and I most certainly do not want to misunderstand a bear.
Abrantes, Roger (1997) Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior. Dogwise Publishing
Berne, Eric (1996) Games People Play. Ballantine Books
Grandin, Temple and Catherine Johnson (2005) Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Scribner: New York, NY.
Livermore, David (2013) Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are. Teaching Company, Chantilly, VA. (Video)
Morris, Desmond (1990) Animalwatching. Jonathan Cape. London
Morris, Desmond (1991) Babywatching. Jonathan Cape, London
Morris, Desmond (1986) Catwatching and Cat Lore. Arrow Books Ltd.
Morris, Desmond (1986) Dogwatching. Jonathan Cape. London
Morris, Desmond (1989) Horsewatching. Jonathan Cape, London
Morris, Desmond (2002) Peoplewatching. Vintage/Random House. London, UK