Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Inner Lives of Strangers

A picture I took out my window yesterday while the rain was pouring. I snapped it just as this person was walking by and thought it looked a bit like something off of a Ghibli film.

I enjoy people-watching. And I know many other people who enjoy it too. I think it's natural for people to come into a somewhat voyeuristic trance when doing this, and sort of feel detached from their surroundings, as if they are looking into a glass window. It can be fun to be curious, to wonder about where everyone comes from, how they find the weather, who they love, and if they are happy.

But every so often, there is a risk of this detachment turning into something a bit more cynical, and it's as if we are looking into a glass bowl instead, with puny mindless fish inside. We are tempted to fancy our lives and minds more complex and colorful than theirs, simply because of the context we see them in. I come across posts online that on the surface seem to be helpful and insightful, asking for the reader to keep their eyes off their phones, to rush less and enjoy their surroundings, unlike the zombies in the picture with their eyes glued to their phones (non-verbatim of course). Just because everyone around you is rushing around, or doing common things, doesn't mean you are alone among mindless creatures of passive, mundane existence.

I believe there is a danger to painting with very broad brushes when we look at others in their unguarded moments. Any bitter sentiment stemming from feeling like everybody is dull more likely stems from an issue we have to deal with in ourselves, rather than the actual people around us that trigger these feelings. It reflects our own limited perspective, or perhaps imagination, when it comes to the complexity of life outside of our own immediate awareness.

It can be very helpful to approach thinking about the inner lives of strangers with suspended judgement, and more curiosity instead. Helpful not only for the people in question so that we may be kinder to them, but also, and this is true even if we never even interact with them; to our own peace of mind. Because we then feel less loneliness in being our complicated selves, when we realize that there are so many various interesting lives that we are not living, and we can only witness through being open to others when we interact with them. 

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