Like a lot of introverts, I tend toward observation more than participation. Those days on the school playground early on when I hadn't made many connections with classmates, I watched, noting how kids interacted with each other.
So yeah, I've always been a bit weird and research-y.
I've done this throughout my life. In college, while waiting for classes, I'd watch people in hallways. The few times I go into a restaurant to make a pickup order, I watch the people at tables or milling around. If I go to a park and there are people there ... well, usually I leave or find a less-populated part of the park, but if I really want to be there, I'll watch.
Sure, it sounds a little creepy, but I learn a lot from observing people in real life or on social media. Things like:
• Genuinely kind people help whether someone's watching or not, and usually quietly. It may be as simple as offering a steady hand to someone who's a little wobbly on rough ground, or leaving a sweet anonymous note and some money for someone down on their luck. Little acts of kindness don't need to be trumpeted; they just need to be performed. Everyone needs help sometimes.
• Happy people don't need to tell people they're happy. When someone is genuinely happy, there's a sparkle in the eyes, a carefree grin, and body language that is loose and open. People who aren't really happy have smiles that don't reflect what's in their eyes, and any laughter sounds forced or mechanical. I see a lot of people who were supposedly happy under the last president whose demeanor hasn't changed. They were angry then, and they're angry now. Maybe they should admit they weren't happy in the first place.
• People who have a sense of humor are a lot easier to be around. That said, perhaps we should be reminded that insults based on something someone has no control over aren't really funny. Making fun of someone because of disability, race, gender, or many other things that are the results of genetics is something that should have died a painful death long ago. Making fun of something that someone has done that was the result of their own choices, on the other hand, is fair game, though it can be in bad taste. There's a limit to everything.
Humor is subjective, but some things are universal, and a good laugh goes a long way toward relieving tension, especially when it's the unfettered laugh of a child. Make a baby laugh, and you've had a good day.
• Centrists and moderates are more likely to see the world for how it really is. They feel no need to label someone as radical unless they're on the fringes, whether that's far right or far left. If a true centrist or moderate calls someone radical, rest assured they are. They think seriously about issues and don't automatically go for the most outlandish possibility when talking about what some politician plans because they paid attention in their civics, government and constitutional law classes and aren't prone to fall for fear-based propaganda. Yet these are the very people villainized by hyperpartisans on the left and right (when they're not taking pot shots at the other side).
Reality can bite if you ignore it for too long. And it really gets irritated when you repeatedly talk about things that you swear will happen under a Democrat/Republican/hedgehog that never happen. But sure, keep up that Second Amendment/abortion/Nazi fearmongering.
• Everyone needs someone who will challenge their way of thinking and call them out if they've lost the plot; it's through actual discussion that we all grow. However, when the reaction one gets to their concerns is always derision, perhaps it's time to cut ties. If no one is willing to budge and it becomes nothing but sniping, there's nothing to gain. Except stress and a wicked migraine.
It doesn't mean you're taking your ball and going home, but that you see your participation won't make a difference. Let them have the ball while you take a nap.
It's little wonder I was drawn to sociology and journalism in college, as both involve empirical evidence gathered through direct experience and/or observation. I've long been fascinated by how humans treat each other, but I've also been horrified.
It's also why I moved away from political science as a major (though it was still my minor). The way politics is practiced today is dehumanizing, and reduces people to caricatures few resemble. The fringes in the major parties have been given far too much latitude, as Jan. 6 proved, and we need to rethink how we do things.
There are good Democrats and good Republicans who've taken a back seat to those whose main goal seems to be getting more press, and breaking or remaking government in their image. They've forgotten, or never really cared, that the government should reflect the people it serves, not a party or personality.
I challenge those good people to stand up and reclaim your parties. If they're too far gone, start again fresh, or go the independent path. We need people who'll serve us, not themselves.
And we really need an aspirin about now too.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at email@example.com.