To Notice or Not to Notice, That is the Question

In many respects, my father and I rest on opposite ends of the bell curve when it comes to how we choose to approach and interpret all that goes into the business of living one’s life. Some of this differentiation may be a child’s predictable reaction against their parent, but other elements originate from a stark difference in our temperaments. Nowhere is this contrast more glaring than in my hyper-awareness of noticing what goes on around me, whereas he glides through life oblivious to about 85% of any and all inter-personal exchanges. Where my radar is attuned to picking up variations in parts per million, my dad lacks an aerial antenna. For as long as I’ve known him, it’s just how he is. This remains a source of perpetual astonishment for me—I cannot fathom how he manages to make his way in this world being so unaware. Which brings me to the topic du jour: given that there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both ends of the personal observation spectrum, how do we, as re-booters, find our way to that serene middle where we are sensitive to the important undercurrents, without being distracted by all the flotsam and jetsam?

Obviously, if I weren’t an inveterate and dedicated people watcher, I’d not be writing this blog. There is nothing as haphazard and varied as human motivation and choices; it’s a study subject that never grows old, at least not in my book. The way I explain this to myself is that, as a child, there were enough random, unwelcome reactions by certain relatives that I felt forced to develop an early warning system for shifts in familial tides; these skills have proven to be hugely useful throughout my career, so, overall, they’ve played a positive role in my life. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the conclusion that my life experience is much improved when I practice greater discrimination in my people watching activities. The reasons for this include a) not everything about others is endlessly fascinating and most is inconsequential, b) unless there’s a more important, “big picture”/extrapolation-about-human-nature reason to observe someone, it easily devolves into voyeurism—and we have the Real Housewives series to fill that distasteful hunger, and c) watching and assessing human behavior can be exhausting. So, these are my reasons as to why it’s not good to pay attention to those around us.

On the other hand, being tuned out means we miss much of what makes life interesting. To have the ongoing sitcom that is life pass right over our heads means we’ve eliminated a rich vein of humor from our daily experience. People are funny! They do funny things, everyday, and failing to notice these one act plays is a genuine loss. Our peers are our best instructors, and we can save ourselves a whole lot of grief if we learn from their trials and errors—but you have to pay attention. That being said, I am willing to concede that my father’s existence is a whole lot more tranquil than mine, simply because he hasn’t a clue. He doesn’t bother to notice what signals people send and then is shocked, shocked! by the eventual outcome. (Really? If you’d paid attention, it might not have come as such a surprise.) But, I admit that up until that unwelcome denouement, he hasn’t drained his energies by fretting. So, he’s got that going for him, and it’s not a small point. Ignoring the vast majority of what’s going on around us permits us to focus our energies on matters of particular consequence. A third advantage to being tuned out is that we don’t run the risk of forming opinions or getting emotionally involved in matters that are really none of our business. For example, we don’t worry about what others think of us. How much time have you, personally, wasted doing this? And what has it gotten you? An ulcer? A hangover? What positive outcome follows from torturing ourselves over other people’s opinions of us? Practicing disinterest about issues or people creates psychological space for us to engage in more worthwhile activities. Limiting what we notice allows us to create clear boundaries between what is important to us and…everything else.

How do I strive for that middle ground? Well, it ain’t natural or easy, I assure you. Mostly, I have to remind myself that much of what I notice is inconsequential and deserves no commentary—it simply isn’t any of my business and I do myself no favors by forming an opinion. And then, I refocus my attention on something I actually care about. It ain’t a perfect system, but it’s the only one I’ve got. Does any of this ring true for you? Where do you come down on finding that middle point of the bell curve? Thoughts? Ideas? Feedback?


Anyone? Anyone? –doo economics?


(Maybe, this is simply one of those topics you’ve decided best be tuned out…)



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2 Responses to “To Notice or Not to Notice, That is the Question”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Good one

  2. helenga Says:

    I wish I could be one of those folks who didn’t care what was going on around me, but like you–probably because of oblivious relations–I”m hyper-aware. Maybe it’s time to practice disinterest…

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