I have always been a people watcher. Maybe it’s a little bit creepy, but give me a bench on Comm. Ave. and a coffee and I will sit there for hours watching the people walk by. I could never put my finger on it, the reason I was so drawn to people watching until recently. I finally pinpointed the focus of my people watching: human interaction. I’m absolutely fascinated with the way one person interacts with another person and how these interactions may shape their lives, even in the smallest way.
I’ve always believed in the idea that we leave a fingerprint on the lives of everyone we come into contact with. It sounds corny, I know, but just because something’s mushy doesn’t mean it is untrue. I believe that in every interaction we make, from paying for our coffee to comforting a crying friend, we leave a bit of ourselves with that person and they leave a bit of themselves with us. When all is said and done, these little bits and pieces we’ve collected make up a large portion of our life story. Now, sometimes we leave more of ourselves with someone than they leave with us, sometimes it works the other way around. Sometimes we barely leave anything at all. Regardless, we are constantly interacting with other people and incorporating their ideas, experiences, and stories into our own lives.
Moving past the corny gushy stuff, I think I find human interaction interesting in part because we never know what another person is thinking. Even if you spend all day every day with someone, you rarely know exactly what they are thinking and you never know how their experiences have affected their thoughts and interpretations of the world. I think this is one of the coolest things to think about because the way our experiences have shaped us are what makes everyone different, what makes us each unique human beings. This is, of course, why identical twins are not the exact same person. Despite having identical DNA, they live completely separate lives and have had completely different experiences, which is what makes them different. Life is always interesting because no one has the same stories to tell. Our stories are what make us different.
I have been thinking about this concept a lot lately and as I was sitting in class on Tuesday, my mind started to wander. It was the last class I was attending before going back to Warren to speed pack and vacuum and so I let my mind wander (We also had a substitute professor and she was presenting directly from the slides we were given. I couldn’t have paid attention if I had tried.) As my mind wandered, I began to think about the complexity of human interaction, the idea that everyone’s stories are connected, intricacies of human conflict, and the relation between communication and conflict.* These topics may seem somewhat unrelated but I promise you they are not.
After much thinking about life, conflicts currently happening in my life, and how frustrating miscommunication was, I realized that much of the interpersonal conflict we struggle with in our day-to-day lives stems from a lack of communication. To which most of you readers are probably saying, “Well duh, Jill.” To which I will reply, “Just because this may seem obvious doesn’t mean many people are willing to admit that they are the partial cause of a problem.” It is rare that we know all sides of a story, can understand all aspects of a conflict and so, we usually fail to explain a problem thoroughly when discussing it with our friends.
This is not intentional. This is the result of our unique experiences as human beings and our inability to understand the thoughts going on in someone else’s head. Similarly, many times past experiences with a similar situation triggers a certain response. It can be difficult to explain to others how all of our experiences have shaped our thoughts, ideas, opinions, and lives and even more difficult to consider this in the heat of the moment. Although it’s inconvenient, one of the most important parts of successfully resolving an argument is understanding the point of view of the person you are arguing with, no matter how difficult that may be. The same aspect of the human experience that fascinates me, our unique experiences and how these experiences interact with others and the world around us, also is a source of extreme frustration.
I am completely fascinated with the human experience. I am baffled by the idea that we are all one species. There are over 7 billion people in the world and every single person has a different story. That means that 7 billion different stories are currently being written. Not being a math person or someone who is very familiar with the amount of deaths that occur everyday (I try to remain an optimist and also do not like acknowledging my own mortality), I can’t even imagine how many stories have already been written. I sat at my desk, baffled, until class ended. I had always known that there were billions of people in the world, but I had never considered how many different stories were being created at one time. It was a marvelous revelation that has been under my nose for my entire life.
I find the idea of 7 billion current stories is a little unnerving though. With so many different stories being written, how is one to feel unique? I thought about it a little more and connected this thought of the immensity of our population to the interconnectedness of human beings. Since we are all connected, constantly interacting and leaving our fingerprints on our fellow humans, why do we have to think of our world as 7 billion different stories? Why can’t we think of our world as one story? One story with 7 billion different, fluid characters, moving through the pages with set beginning and end points. The story has no definitive start and no definitive end but the characters do. Their stories are what give the empty novel life. What is more beautiful than the idea of 7 billion unique and fluid characters writing their own plot lines to form one cohesive yet never-ending story? I can’t think of anything.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that I get to be a part of this story. The story that connects me to the person walking down the sidewalk, to my best friends, and to the people I have yet to meet. I am grateful to this story because not only does it connect us all but it also gives us life. What are you grateful for?
*I personally think this was a much better use of my time than trying to attention. If I had tried to pay attention I would have either fallen asleep or ended up on Facebook.