“You can observe a lot by watching” (Yogi Berra).
MANY OF THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE SLIP BY THOSE WHO ARE NOT OBSERVANT. And sadly, most of us would have to plead guilty. Our powers of observation have been dulled by lack of use, and we’re not as attentive as we should be. We overlook much and ignore even more. The most remarkable things around us go unnoticed. But when we start working on our observation habits, great things begin to happen. You really can, as Yogi said, “observe a lot by watching.”
Our observation of life’s details can be hindered by two opposite problems. We may not see what we need to see because we’re not involved enough. Sometimes discovery requires rolling up our sleeves and digging in, actively and personally entering into an experience. But at other times, our observation is hindered by being too involved. We can’t see what we should because we are too close and not objective enough. “A stander-by may sometimes, perhaps, see more of the game than he that plays it” (Jonathan Swift). So it takes wisdom to know when to “move in” and when to “back up” for a better view.
Most of us are surrounded by people who would appreciate it if we became more observant. Observation is, indeed, a great gift that we can give to our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Being aware and alert — just noticing them — says to another human being, “You are significant. In this moment, I am paying attention to you.”
I am probably a little crazy about this, but I love to observe and “drink in” what I am observing. (People hate to go to museums and art galleries with me.) A friend asked me the other day what I do when I go to New York, and I was too embarrassed to tell him that I just enjoy going to interesting places and observing. I could spend hours atop Rockefeller Center, for example, just listening, looking down on the city, noticing details, savoring curiosities, relishing wonders, thinking, pondering, meditating, and . . . observing!
But of course, the human race is the most curious phenomenon in the world, and if you want to get better at observation, I suggest that you start noticing people — beginning with those right around you.
Let observation with extensive view
Survey mankind, from China to Peru.