My son (3) and I were sitting on a row of chairs staring at the long line of people queuing for passport control at LAX. Wife and daughter had gone to the bathroom and so we waited. Son swinging his legs on the chair, I was pretty spaced out from a 10 hour flight with two kids.
“Are you familiar with the concept of people watching?” I asked Son. He wasn’t. “What you do is look at all these people and imagine what their lives are like, what type of person they are.”
We returned to sitting in silence, except he was leaning a bit further forward in his seat, now staring intently.
“NICE!” He suddenly shouted, many people turning to look, “YOU’RE NICE!”
I swiftly provided a quick recap of the rules of people watching, namely that you aren’t meant to confront the people with your judgement.
It made me think, what makes people seem nice? Was my son just attracted to some bright clothing or was there a couple sharing a joke with each other and laughing. More importantly, was he right? Was the person he’d singled out indeed nice? Were we even equipped to make such a character judgement from our observational seats at the back of the hall?
I’ll be honest, people watching for me usually involves placing people on a mental scale of attractiveness or finding couples that I think are considerably mismatched. I wouldn’t call it mean, perhaps just cynical.
In a world of trolling, sensationalist tabloid media, deliberately controversial talk show commentators, and increasingly nationalistic xenophobia, I was proud and slightly taken aback by my son highlighting the niceness he perceived in this person.
Was it the first thing he noticed or was he looking for niceness? I don’t know, but I do know I’m going to try to emulate him and see if I can spot the niceness in people before I make any other judgments.