“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes” –Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The House of Baskerville.
Every Thursday after school I like to spend my time tutoring middle schoolers, and despite what you might think, I thoroughly enjoy it. These little kids are delightfully devious and I think a quality that automatically comes with being mischievous is being intelligent. It’s funny the way people usually underestimate children, but they observe you and figure you out in a way that is almost unfair.
“You are doing it again!” said my student out of nowhere, startling me because I never realize I’m doing it until someone literally snaps me out of it.
“What do you mean ‘I’m doing it again’?” I asked giggling at her random outburst.
“You zoned out! You daydream when you get bored, I’ve seen it!”
I was not surprised by what she said, I was surprised that she had figured that about of me. It’s obviously really nothing special, everyone does it, but every time I do it my fingers move in a very distinct way. I can’t really explain it verbally, but I like to think that it’s my body trying touch something that is far out of my reality. I have had plenty of teachers yell at me for doing it (I almost got sent to the office once because they thought I was on my phone), friends and family point it out to me, and I always felt embarrassed to truly explain to people what I was doing, so I offered no explanation. I’ve had this sort of “nervous tick,” if I can refer to it that way, ever since I was a little girl and it became something like my signature. Nowadays, I just hold my fingers in a tight fist, but that still doesn’t stop my mind from wandering off in math class.
However, I had never had anyone actually figure out what I was doing. It startles me when someone looks past my actions and understands why I do them. It’s always a little unnerving when people figure me out, I either appreciate the fact that they understand me or I get scared because I’m not sure if to their eyes it seems normal.
“There is nothing like first-hand evidence.” – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Study In Pink.
It’s important the way you can infer many things about people by observing small details about their actions, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the different versions of ourselves that we create. Not just for the people that are close to us, but for the people that we don’t know.
Just like this little girl figured me out so easily, there are people who are observant. People who without saying a word to them, know exactly the type of person you are. But is that really fair? Boxing people without getting to know them?
I few nights ago I was standing in line of a concession stand with my friend to get water. We were at a football game and everywhere you turned there were people. It was hot, it was loud, it was chaos. Behind us there was a young boy and girl who were obviously a couple (but after what happened, I hope she dumped him).
“Stop touching me!” she said to him, pushing his hand away, obviously not wanting to be touched.
“C’mon, don’t be like that.” he responded, as he put his hands around her again. “Nobody cares and nobody’s watching us.” I cared. I was watching.
“I said no!” She yelled before I could say anything and finally walked away from him.
It was so quick, and I have no idea how things ended that night for either of them, and I’ll probably never see either of them in my life. All I know is that I don’t like him. This immature dumb boy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Disgusting. Thank God I’ll never see you again in my life.
That same night (it was an eventful night), the opposing team won. It was fine, my friends and I didn’t think anything of it. While we were walking out of the premises we encountered people from the opposing team. We got slandered by them, multiple times. We got honked at, yelled at, and insulted.
Whatever they said doesn’t matter to me, but the image that I now have of them is trashy. They said a maximum of three words to us, but they were disrespectful, and in my mind that automatically puts them in a place of people who have nothing better to do than to slander others.
Can you imagine? All the words that you can say to a stranger and you choose those.
So no, sometimes it isn’t the observer who boxes you in, people do it to themselves.
I often wonder about this, more than I’d like to admit. How different people scattered around the country think of me. Like when maybe my day wasn’t going so good so I unintentionally behaved rudely to someone. If maybe one day I was unnecessarily mean to a waiter. Maybe I forgot to say thank you to someone who held the door open for me. Those are small things, I know, but they are, in a sense, a part of my personality. How you treat others are small glimpses to the person you really are.
Therein lies the importance of being a stranger, a good stranger. People observe you and maybe they don’t need too much evidence to know the kind of person you are. You exert your insides onto the world and while it may be erroneous to infer someone’s entirety based on three words, the image you put out there, may leave others with no intention of getting to know you.
Maybe people won’t completely strip your identity in five seconds like Sherlock Holmes would, because hopefully you’re not a killer trying to cover up a crime. But the few words you say to people who are never going to see you again, mean a lot to the people that are planning to stick around. I think that the awareness you put into your actions are what create a cohesive version of yourself. One that truly parallels who you are on a daily basis, when you need not to worry what people label you as because you put your best effort in being who you are (and if someone still doesn’t like you despite your honesty, then that’s a them problem not a you problem).
“I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”– The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia.
With all that being said, my one piece of advice to you when you meet people is to observe their moral code and the way they live by it. Gather all your data, as I assume Sherlock Holmes would say, before jumping into anything that is dangerous and can hurt you unnecessarily. Look at their different attitudes, listen to their word choices. There are many many words a person has the option to say, and we somehow still choose the wrong ones. Think about that next time you see a brand new face, a brand new opportunity to make an impression. What are you going to say?
Because let me just tell you that there people who see right through you, who read you back and forth so easily it’s almost frightening. People who understand you through your weird mannerisms that you think are so mysterious.
You have that choice; choose to be a good stranger.
Feautured Image: Photograph taken by Megan Bishop.