I’m a people-watcher. I’m the kind of person who gets her jollies going to Melvin’s Truckstop on Rush Street so I can sit on the patio, drink a few Heinekens and watch the assorted people go by. During my time at Northern, I’ve watched a lot of people. Mostly, I’ve watched people avoid other people.
I’ve watched robotical students shove and elbow their way into Huskie buses without looking at each other, with the exception of an evil glare or two. Like androids, students trudge from class to class, staring blankly at the ground or the faceless back in front of them. And should two peoples’ eyes accidently meet, they look away and ignore each other’s existence, as if one’s privacy had somehow been invaded by the other’s gaze.
Each weekend brings with it the grandest facades of all. All week long, students look forward to the time when they can go to a party or bar where they will be surrounded by other people. So what happens when they get there? They get drunk so they can deal with each other. And when they’re feeling at ease they engage in usually meaningless conversation, most often with the opposite sex, so they don’t have to go home alone. But rarely does anything come of drunken encounters and, thus the whole process starts again with a few more names on the list of people to forget.
I’ve also watched faculty members bustle through hallways, oblivious to the people around them. I’ve attended lectures where the teacher talks to the floor or the tops of students’ heads. And questions are answered by formula, just as they’ve probably been answered a zillion semesters before.
I’ve often wondered what goes on in the heads of a hurried, preoccupied professor. Maybe he’s cogitating some great new concept and can’t afford to be distracted. Or maybe he has been at NIU so long that all the students look the same to him, so why bother trying to elicit some fresh conversation?
But more than likely, the professors, just like the students, are merely reflecting an aspect of society common in any given cluster of human beings—people are basically afraid of other people. You know what I mean. Have you ever been walking down a hallway and seen someone wave in your direction, but you’re not sure he’s waving at you so you ignore him because you’re afraid you’ll look stupid.?
When someone does look at you, do you feel like there must be ketchup smeared on your face? So you run to the bathroom to check instead of just acknowledging a friendly glance. When someone you don’t know comes up and says “Hi” with a big grin on his face, do you wonder what drugs he’s on?
And on those rare days when you’re in a halfway decent mood and you feel like saying hello to a guy from last semester’s English class as you pass him in the hallway, do you blow it off because you’re afraid he won’t recognize you and everyone walking next to you will think you’re a dork?
The thing to remember as each systematic day goes by is so completely obvious that it’s over most of our heads. Although we are, by nature, social beings (and you’ve heard that a thousand times in every psych class), we spend a lot of time either avoiding or trying too hard to impress other people, forgetting that they are trying just as hard to avoid or impress us.
If you’re ever worried that what you’re wearing is ugly, what you’re saying is stupid, what you look like in general is revolting or if you fear you have the I.Q. of a poisoned rat, just remember that everyone else is worried about similar things.
So the next time some stranger looks you in the eye, blow his mind and say “hello.” The next time someone tries to throw you under the wheels of a Huskie bus so they can be first, assert yourself, tell him he’s a mindless jerk and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks because they’ll probably be applauding you in their minds.
And if you want to shock the pants off that professor who you believe thinks of you as a braindead amoeba, walk right up to him and say, “Hey, how ‘bout those Cubs, huh?” Let him wonder.