I find people fascinating. I’m curious about every person I know: my friends, my colleagues, strangers on the bus, you. What stories lie behind all those faces? What are their passions? What mistakes have they made? What pain, anguish, and happiness have led them to be here, in this place, right now?
What I love about people is simply that we’re not so simple. We are all a nuanced, complex mix of experiences and emotions – insecure in some way. We all want to be loved, have stories to share. And want to be listened to. And honestly, I think we’re not listening to each other anymore.
In this age of social media, of picture-perfect Instagram moments and oversharing, we may have our lives out displayed like an open book, but we know less about each other than ever. Every dinner we eat is photographed, every trip logged in inscrutable detail, every baby photo displayed proudly on our timelines. You’d think we’d feel more connected to each other than ever.
And yet, when I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop, or on the bus, or waiting for my friend in the bar, I look around at all these people. And all I see is a sea of faces crouched down, huddled over their phones, connected but so very alone. We are all switched off from our surroundings, staring blankly at a screen filled with other people’s lives whilst ignoring the ones going on right next to us. We’re focusing more on showing other people about ourselves, instead of what others are saying.
I’m not being judgemental. I do it, too. I think we all do.
We’re scared of being rejected by others in trying to talk to them. But I think it’s important to remember that we’re all scared. And we’re all craving connection more than ever.
But who knows what we are missing by doing this? What could you learn from the person sitting next to you? What difference could you make in another person’s life by listening to their story, by actually sitting with them and listening, instead of scrolling through snippets of it on your timeline? And what difference could it make in yours?
I want to share my story, and – more importantly – I want to hear yours too. I want to know what makes you tick, what you’ve learned about the world so far, how I can do better learning through your experience. I’m genuinely curious.
Nowadays, I am consciously trying to do better. I am putting my phone away at dinners, and taking social media breaks. I am striking up conversations with people sitting next to me on public transport. I’m smiling and being more open. I am meeting more people: joining more clubs and social events.
I am trying to understand why someone acts the way they do. If someone is rude to me, is it because they’re having a bad day, or because they’re worried about something at home – or because they are simply rude?
Most importantly, I am trying to listen.
If a person speaks to me, I am taking my time to sit and properly listen, to hear what they have to say. It’s so easy to turn their stories into yours, to hear a detail of their life and have it connect with something you’ve experienced as well. But if you’re always waiting for your turn to speak, how will you truly hear something?
So today, I urge you: put down your phone for a while, and look around. Be curious about the people around you. Ask your mother about her childhood, or your colleague how they’re doing – how they’re really, truly doing. Call your friend. Check in with your neighbour. Listen to the stories around you, and realise these stories are what life is all about, really. Life is life: your life and mine, and countless others intertwined.
Learn about the people around you, and you’ll also learn from them.
By: Alex Pendleton
I am 29 and based in Oxford, England, where I work in Higher Education. I have previously lived and worked in Germany and Italy, and travel whenever I get the chance. An introvert at heart, I love reading, baking and listening to other people's stories. I share my own via my blog, Season Changes City Streets.