For some people, the only good thing about shopping is that you get to watch people. In the spirit of Sherlock Holmes, you can try to deduce what kind of person someone is by watching them walking the aisles. It’s often easy to identify the affluent and the one living paycheck to paycheck. The newlyweds look different from the family of six. And of course the vegan is easy to see when standing next to the carnivore.

Then there is the “bird’s eye view” perspective. This is when you go up on the second or third floor of a mall and look down on the people below. From here you see the hand holders and the stroller pushers; the happy and the angry. And you get to see them all at once. Perhaps we could call it a “God’s eye view.”

But the one thing you can’t do when watching people, is to see the person those people are watching — you. It’s funny, while watching all those people you seldom think they even notice you even when they are looking right at you.

In a collection of essays entitled God in the Dock, C. S. Lewis has a chapter entitled “The Trouble With ‘X’. . .” in which he discusses what is at the core of the problems we have in relationships with one another. He observes,

“I said that when we see how all our plans shipwreck on the characters of the people we have to deal with, we are ‘in one way’ seeing what it must be like for God. But only in one way. There are two respects in which God’s view must be very different from ours. In the first place, He sees (like you) how all the people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind — the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom — to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs.”1

Next time you’re tempted to think, “I don’t want to be like that guy,” think again.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10.

  1. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1970), 153. Italics in original.

One Response to Watching People.

  • I am reminded of the question, “Who is watching the watchman?” and the unsettling realization that “when I point a finger, I have three more pointing back at myself.” That from a guy who enjoys going to NYC to find a bench in Central Park to “people watch” for hours on end. Thank you for this introspective perspective.

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Thank you for visiting. This blog is the result of a lifetime of reading C. S. Lewis and a desire to sit down opposite him over a cup of tea seeking his advice. His responses are based on his letters and books.

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