“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Sherlock Holmes – The Hound of the Baskervilles
Small confession, I am a total Sherlock Holmes nerd. In this instance it serves as the perfect introduction to what I am writing about. Sherlock’s entire skill set is based on observing the minute and seemingly inconsequential aspects of life around him. A skill set that I think is quite useful when it comes to the relationships we have with the people in our lives.
Have you ever spent time with someone and actually bothered to pay attention to them? Not just what they are saying or what they are wearing, but how they say things. Are they strong and well spoken, but refuse to make eye contact? Do they tend to be hilarious and willing to converse about anything, but never willing to dive deeper? What happens in their eyes when they speak to you?
I think patterns and body language are some of the most fascinating and telling methods of communication. Most of us consciously think about how we look, what we say, and what we do on a daily basis, but I doubt that many of us think much about our body language or our conversational habit patterns. Yet, often, these two factors tell another whole story in addition to our words and actions. Being able to understand and interpret this underlying story line is both a great skill and a hefty responsibility.
To clarify here before we go any further. I am not talking about anything “magical” or weird here. I am talking about being observant and paying close attention to people around you. Most of us fail to notice when our close friend’s cut their hair (at least as a guy), let alone the fact that their shoulders are slumping slightly today as they sigh more often than usual. (ie: they are probably having a really rough day) If you’ve never tried this before, go park yourself in a coffee shop, grab a cappuccino, and watch the people. Watch how they talk with other. Where do they look? How do they hold themselves? Do they write with their left or right hand? Are they married or not (ring)? Start with small facts or observations. They make the building blocks of how you being to understand a person’s body language and patterns. If you’re feeling bold, go ask a random stranger a few questions and see if you were right! (Kinda fun and can lead to some rather interesting conversations)
A great skill I can understand, but why a great responsibility? Wow, great question. Glad you asked! (Funny how they always know the question to ask in a blog. It’s like someone is setting me up to write about it! Pure brilliance….and in answer to your question….I am only mostly crazy. Read Sherlock Holmes or come hang out with me, you’ll understand.) Reading body language and understanding patterns is a great skill because it can tell you so much about a person in addition to what they tell you about themselves. If you spend enough time around someone, you can start understand how they think and know where they are at without a word being spoken. It is pretty crazy, and really funny when you start “reading people’s minds.” (Ohh man, I could share some great stories about messing with underclassmen during college, in a good natured way of course.) The flip side of that coin though, is that you now know more about people than they want you to know about them. Which puts you in an interesting situation. What do you do with this knowledge?
From the way I see it, you have three options.
- Ignore what you are observing or deliberately refuse to observe it. – If you’re observant, this is your attempt to “normalize” yourself with those who fail to observe things. People tend not to like it when you can read them like a book. I think this is a totally understandable response, but also a cop out. If you have the ability to read and understand people, why not use it?
- Use your observations to gain a “leg up” on those around you. – Sometimes this can be handy to bring someone down off of their high horse, but this usually leads to you knowing a lot about people and having exactly zero friends. No one wants to spend time with someone who knows things and is a jerk about them. Trust me, been there, not a good option. Abuses of power=no bueno.
- Use your understanding of people to build them up. Speak love. – Needless to say this is the best option. The toughest, but the best. As you begin to see people’s wounds, weaknesses, and struggles, use that knowledge to speak love to them and build them up.
The tough part about this third option lies in the responsibility you bear with a greater understanding of people. As you learn more about them, you have the responsibility not to use that knowledge to hurt them. Remember those off handed jokes you used to make? Not a big deal…until you start to notice how much they hurt your friends. Why not use that observation as an opportunity to speak love into that area of their lives. I believe that this ability give us an incredible opportunity as Christians to speak the Gospel into people lives with love. How great is it to be able to apply the all-cure of Christ to the wound we observe in those spend time with the most?
This, I think is the hard question. How do you love those around you when you observe their hurts, wounds, and struggles? It would be rather awkward if you went up and hugged people, even your good friends, every time you observed something. (Though of course, sometimes this is the perfect answer.) I think it best to start with simple, genuine words of encouragement. See a friend who isn’t so secure about themselves? Tell them how much you appreciate your friendship. See a random stranger who looks like they are struggling, but you love their t-shirt. Why not tell them that? You never know when you might make a stranger’s or friend’s day. And that my friends, is the first step towards deepening the relationships with the people around you. It’s the start that may allow you to speak the life giving words of the Gospel into someone’s life.
I write this because of an encouraging experience I was reflecting on last night. I have a friend who is a wonderful, witty, and lively person whose true personality I have just begun to understand. She has always been rather quite around groups and it is just recently that I have been able to enjoy her company and personality more fully. As I recall, this began with a passing comment that I, and the group of friends we were with, very much enjoyed her company. This helped to soothe her doubt (I believe) as to why we invited her over to spend time with us. Since then, she has been come more comfortable being herself around me and it has been such a joy to experience! I am glad for this budding friendship that began with such a small observation and an even smaller comment.
‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’
Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Bohemia
I would like to end with a rather elementary challenge. I challenge you to be a person who not only observes, but who observes in order to love as you go about your day tomorrow. Make it a daily habit to observe the people around you and to build them up in love when their weaknesses and wounds show through.