People Watching

Avivah Mitchel (’23) reflects on the power of people-watching to elicit empathy and connect with those we tutor. “Discomfort can appear differently in each person, but it is so often recognizable. Happiness, people can’t seem to hide it when it radiates off of them.”

I love to people-watch.

I love to observe people doing people things and wonder about their lives 

It has always been bizarre to me that each person I meet – and the billions of people that I’ll never meet – have just as many, if not more, thoughts, aspirations, likes and dislikes, talents and struggles, and emotions as myself. Not in the way that I don’t believe it, but in the way that it’s fascinating and difficult to wrap my head around, but it puts things into perspective and helps to get out of your own head. 

I find solace in people-watching.

I sit in a seat surrounded by windows in the coffee shop on the corner, observing all who walk past. I came here to work on my college essays, some of which are due in less than two weeks and I haven’t begun writing them. But like I often am, I am distracted by the individuals around me.

All I can do is people-watch. 

The woman on the corner in a bright yellow vest on top of a winter coat is holding a clipboard, with worry in her eyes. I imagine she is registering people to vote as the primaries are next month, only a few more days for people to register to vote and be eligible to vote in the next election. She lifts her chin and eagerly asks people questions – most of whom ignore her, or avoid eye contact and shake their heads. I can’t quite see what she is asking them, but she appears to be feeling defeated. A boy in a red crew neck nervously checks his phone 3 times as he crosses the street, he could be anxiously awaiting a message from someone, or maybe some sort of test result. His nervous demeanor transports him to the other side of the street –  where he once again, checks his phone. A boy in a Michigan baseball cap carries himself with certainty and confidence, his shoulders back, chest puffed out, backpack open and his jacket unzipped. He smiles to himself as he walks with a bounce in his step. I wonder if he had just heard good news or is on his way to a date, or perhaps he is just feeling good today. A couple peacefully hold hands as they slowly make their way down the block. Content smiles fill their faces as they turn to look at each other, the smile that doesn’t leave when they turn away. To me, they seem to be a new couple. Maybe they started dating a month ago. They look happy and full of warmth amongst the cold of the fall day.

These are just judgments and assumptions, I’ll never know the reality of the strangers on the other side of these windows, or even the ones 3 feet away from me at another table. But I won’t stop wondering. You may approach interactions differently based on what you observe about people. 

It’s quite easy to make negative judgments about people. It’s in our nature. Negative judgments are based on people’s appearance or clothing, assuming their situation. However, positive people-watching is about positive judgments and curious inquiries. To wonder about people’s lives, and approach those thoughts with good intentions, and empathy. 

I notice that most people who walk alone have headphones in, whether they are listening to music, a podcast, on a phone call, or just have them in to avoid interaction. Some people walk alone. Others with a friend, or partner. Some people walk in groups. Some people get pushed off the sidewalk in their group or have to walk alone slightly behind. Some people walk with emphasis on their heels, or toes. Some with long, slow strides, others with quick short steps, or somewhere in between. Some people look at their feet as they walk. Others pay clear attention to their surroundings. Some people are highly conscious of the way they walk, maybe that’s because of a past experience that stuck with them. Some people walk with pride radiating off of them, almost as if they are dancing. Others take timid steps. Some people roll themselves down the road in an electric wheelchair. While some get pushed by someone else. Some people drag their feet when they walk. Or keep their toes turned in. Others walk with their feet turned out and barely bend their knees. 

These people that I watch, are on their way to something or from somewhere. Each person picked out their outfit. Some may have retrieved their clothes from their floor, the same outfit from yesterday, and maybe even the day before. Or maybe they took time curating their outfit to represent and express themselves. One girl appears to be wearing handmade or vintage jeans with different colored patches. Another wearing a golden goose coat. I marvel at the variety. Someone else wears a t-shirt, they don’t seem to be shivering, though it’s the coldest day of the year so far. 

I am curious about each person’s story, family, opinions, and interests. I wonder if they participate in class, or have a favorite teacher or professor. I wonder if we’ve ever crossed paths before or if we will ever again. I won’t remember either way. Through the window, I can’t tell who is an exchange student from another country, who is from Michigan, or out of state. 

At school, I people-watch every day, in the hallways, out the windows of my classes, and even within my classes. But it’s different at school. The faces and backpacks are familiar. I see the same bunch of students on my walk from class to class each day, but I could name maybe 15 of them, the ones I walk with and a few others. I watch people’s body language. One day the person whose outfits I always admire walks alone today, with their head down. I wonder if something had happened.

Each friend I make, or classmate I get to know, has a story. They have joyful memories and heartbreaking trauma – of course some more than others – they have music they like, concerns, passions, and the things that build their identity; the ways in which I perceive them, what they chose to share, what they don’t, how they perceive themselves. Each person is full of value. I learn so much from people’s body language. Some body language is universal. Discomfort can appear differently in each person, but it is so often recognizable. Happiness, people can’t seem to hide it when it radiates off of them. 

In the Writing Center, people-watching and body language reading are some of the most important parts of being a writing tutor. A quiet student comes in, clearly, they had to find the courage to step in and sit down next to you: don’t bombard them with information about yourself and an intense amount of energy. A student takes a seat next to you and inches their chair away from the edge of the table, they need some space, don’t comment on it, just give them a little bit of space. A student comes into the writing center, introduces themselves immediately, smiles at you before you ask, and sits down with excitement and passion written all over their face, returning that energy. Every single interaction that you have with people in the Writing Center, and beyond, can be enhanced by the way your ability to be aware of and receptive to people’s body language. 

You should people-watch more often. You don’t have to be able to read body language. Just sit. And watch people being people. 

How Powerful can our Clothing Choices be?

Elena Mychaliska (’23) discusses how design choices-from fashion to interior design-influence both our perceptions of others and how we feel. “…enclothed cognition …is the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. Studies show that our mood can be affected depending on what we wear.”

As the premier of the new season of The Crown nears, and Princess Diana’s iconic, and symbolic, style makes its way back into the media, I cannot help but find myself fascinated by the power of clothing. Whether it be her iconic black sheep sweater or the famous revenge dress, it was one of her most notable forms of communication with her audience: communicating happiness, sadness, and even rebellion. 

Princess Diana’s life can serve as a case study of the influential role clothing plays in how a person is perceived: used as a tool to communicate aspects of a person’s identity, their emotions, and their goals. This phenomenon, or better yet strategy, of careful fashion choices is so influential it has been used as a tactic by the most wealthy and powerful people in the world throughout history. Independent of Princess Diana, newly elected, far-right Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, has been seen consistently wearing Armani, since her swearing in. Georgio Armani’s position on dressing controversial politicians is that fashion “goes beyond politics”. As a classic, politically neutral, “made in Italy” brand, it is hard to criticize, making it the perfect choice for the controversial new Prime Minister. But the impact of our clothes does not stop there.

Not only do clothes heavily impact how others view and treat you, it also impacts how people themselves behave. In 2012, a study was conducted at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in which people were asked to perform tasks while wearing a white coat. Those that wore a white coat, believing it belonged to a doctor, had sharp increases in their ability to pay attention. Whereas, those that wore the white coat believing it belonged to a painter showed no improvement in their ability to pay attention. 

This phenomenon is called enclothed cognition, which is the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. Studies show that our mood can be affected depending on what we wear. Moreover, it has been observed that our emotion upon waking up can have an effect on what we choose to wear on that given day. Happy clothes, or clothes that evoke positive emotions, have a tendency to be flattering and made from bright, beautiful fabrics. Sad clothes, or clothes that evoke negative emotions, however, are just the opposite. Although, this is subjective. Generally, positive clothes are ones that the person feels the most comfortable in. When I think of school design, color palette and furniture selection play a significant role. There are many conscious choices regarding what evokes calming and productive feelings. Green, blue, and beige. Couches, lamps, and rugs. In thinking about how to encourage success in an academic setting, clothing could have a similar effect, following school design as being a new piece of the academic success puzzle, amongst a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast. Making this a conscious element of school preparedness and success could significantly improve how people feel when taking a math test or completing an English essay, or even socializing with their peers. So next time you go to bed, do yourself a favor and pick out your outfit for the next morning-it could help you on your next assignment!

The Sexism Hidden Within Common Tradition: What would you do?

Lily Carlson (’23) examines the sexism embedded in some of our traditions. “On one hand, it is important to fight these systematically rooted problems by creating change. But on the other hand, these are long-lasting traditions that are a part of the ‘perfect’ wedding ideal.”

A few weeks ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding in Fishers, Indiana. This was my first time going to a wedding so I was teeming with excitement, just waiting for the weekend to arrive.  I watched a beautiful ceremony set at golden hour, and all I could think about was how happy I was for my cousin. After the ceremony, we ventured over to a large building for the reception dinner. I was looking up, admiring the beautiful, barn-inspired room when I overheard my other cousins having a conversation about the reception. “I can’t believe they used all of that old, traditional wedding language,” one said. “I know right, like are we in the 1950’s?” The other rhetorically questioned. 

This sparked a completely new idea in my head, something I had never even thought about before. When I listened to the ceremony, I didn’t pay attention to all the specific phrases that they used. For example, “I promise to love, honor, and obey.” Only the bride has to say the “obey” part, not the husband. Also, think about the tradition of the father “giving the bride away” to the groom. Most people just see this as a beautiful moment of the father and bride walking down the aisle together. Which yes, it is, but it also signifies that a woman is always under the control of a man. As well, “Man and Wife” labels men just as they are, but women as an extension of said man. There is so much more hidden sexism through things as inconspicuous as the dress, the positioning of the groom and bride, etc.

All of these new realizations sparked a debate I had with myself: Should people change and modernize the language in their weddings? Or should people just keep things as they are, because it is tradition, after all. On one hand, it is important to fight these systematically rooted problems by creating change. But on the other hand, these are long-lasting traditions that are a part of the “perfect” wedding ideal. Personally, I will be planning on reinventing the ceremony and the language used to eliminate these sexist aspects. However, I believe this is a decision every bride should make themself. A wedding should be the spitting image of a bride’s wants and desires, so if they are happy with the traditional language, that is what they should do. 

What would you do?

Procrastinating, Passion and Inspiration

Gia Falcicchio-Wall (’24) writes about the intersections between procrastination and passion. “Writing is a place where I feel I lay right in between the mindsets of procrastination and passion. It can take me a very long time to get started on a writing project, but once I’ve started the words will just spill out of my brain, into my fingers, which then type, type and type some more.”

Procrastination. Something everyone struggles with from time to time. Writing is definitely a major place where people fall victim to procrastination the most often. I know that as I slowly work on this blog post, I too am guilty of putting it off until the very last possible minute. 

There isn’t much rhyme or reason behind procrastinating. Sometimes I just don’t want to take the time to sit down and write; so I put it off. Maybe I am just lazy. Maybe I just need to be in a special mood to actually get work done, use my time wisely or even just be productive. 

As anyone who procrastinates does, I turn to Google. A quick and easy way to figure out answers to all of life’s burning questions; the same questions that I couldn’t be bothered to waste more than 10 minutes researching. So I open a new tab, hover over the search bar and I type “Why do I procrastinate so much”. With no question mark. That takes too much effort. I click enter and see all of the different words fill the page. 

All that I see are things that are “wrong” with you if you procrastinate. Oh you procrastinate? You must be depressed, anxious all the time, you don’t believe in yourself enough and your study habits must be awful. We can all agree that procrastinating isn’t a great habit and for sure has to do with your mental health, but there is so much more to it than that. 

Passion. Something everyone needs to have for something at some point in your life. Having a certain level of passion for what you are working on is what makes you want to be productive in finishing the assignment. If you have absolutely no passion or interest all together why even bother wasting valuable time towards it. 

Writing is a place where I feel I lay right in between the mindsets of procrastination and passion. It can take me a very long time to get started on a writing project, but once I’ve started the words will just spill out of my brain, into my fingers, which then type, type and type some more. But I get it, not everyone has the inspiration to pull out a pen and some paper and to start writing out of the blue. But what if you did? 

Inspiration. Something that is everywhere as long as you look for it. Look around the room you are sitting in right now. There has got to be something that you could stare at endlessly out of interest (or boredom). Pick up a pen and write about thoughts or feelings that need to be addressed. Even if you have an essay due at 11:59, when inspiration hits you, it hits you hard. If there’s something you want to write about, just do it! Don’t let deadlines or boring people get you down. 

Writing is a safe place for everyone to use to share passion and joy. Writing is a safe place for everyone to use to share struggles. As long as people keep writing, and enjoy doing so, passion for writing will never go away.

The Math Behind Writing

Will Pace (’24) invites us to think creatively about structure in writing. “…my “structure” was my thought directly to the page. I could have never written this post with a graphic organizer.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh my gosh Will no shut up I hate math please don’t write about math please!!!” And to that I’d say, don’t worry, because I hate it too. And don’t get too worked up, because math doesn’t REALLY exist behind every single piece we write (or maybe that’s what I want you to think). Ok fine, but for real, whether you think it’s true or not, I most certainly think it is.

You are most likely still confused, so let me explain a little more in depth. Everything you do in life seems to have a “process”, or a certain way it functions. Not just that, but there is really a type of math behind everything. If something has dimensions, it’s made up of math. The angle at which you would throw a ball to get it to a certain spot works mathematically. Heck, the price of a gallon of milk at the store is numbers. But how does this relate to writing?

I can guarantee that writing has been taught to you as a process. We’ve all heard of and written an essay in English class that has an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Super fun right? Actually, it’s the opposite. I am certainly not a fan of this style of writing, but that’s okay, because you don’t need a specific structure to start writing. Sometimes the structure comes from the writing, and not the traditional other way around. 

I often dive into pieces of mine with no structure, and just type and keep going until It’s finished (LIKE I AM RIGHT NOW!!!!) Obviously I’m gonna go through and revise it afterwards, but my “structure” was my thought directly to the page. I could have never written this post with a graphic organizer. What I’m saying is I can’t write effectively with that structure we were taught, which is honestly why I hated writing for so long.

NOW. I bet you are probably wondering, “Will! How does THAT relate to math?!?” Well, what I’ll say is that with math comes structure, and with structure comes math. You can’t have one without the other. We are taught structure in everything we do, and that is the same with writing. But the more and more you write, you begin to see that structure maybe isn’t always as important as it’s made out to be. So maybe I’m saying that the math behind writing is that there isn’t math behind writing. Or at least there doesn’t have to be.