Dance like no one’s watching. We’ve all heard this axiom a thousand times. But have you ever considered why people feel so compelled to repeat it? Because generally someone is watching. And even if they aren’t watching you, they’re watching someone like you and it’s easy to internalize the comments, stares or blog posts critiquing your fashion sense no matter who they’re aimed at. It’s the red circle syndrome: The second you see a red circle highlighting some star’s “flaw” don’t you immediately look to see if you have the same problem? Maybe a little awkward when the mag is talking about butt cellulite but otherwise, guilty as charged. The next stage is looking at everyone else to see if they too have the same problem. The final stage is losing your mind and refusing to ever go to a beach again unless you are wearing your picnic blanket like a ghost costume.
Not to get all tin-foil-hat up in here but between security cameras, video phones and the all-seeing-eye of the Internet, someone is always watching. We live in a weird world.
I learned this the hard way tonight when I got pulled over driving the one mile home from a friend’s house. The officer ticketed me for making an illegal u-turn at midnight in a deserted suburban intersection. Ok, obviously it wasn’t completely deserted… duh. I got the lecture about how even though it may appear no other cars are present, traffic laws still apply. It was a little ridiculous — no drunk drivers to catch? — but I did, after all, make an illegal u-turn. It was late, I was tired and so I took the risk because I thought no one was watching my little indiscretion.
It turns out someone was watching me. Someone with an itchy ticket finger.
The real question – that I pondered while waiting ten minutes for the cop to write my ticket, instead of texting all my friends like I wanted to do but then decided that seeing me on my phone in my car probably wouldn’t endear me any more to the officer – is this: Does this constant surveillance – and the knowledge of it – change the way you live your life?
It’s not all traffic tickets and big brother. I remember several years ago when I was applying for a second job as a high school tutor and the manager arranged an interview with me at a local coffee shop. When the time came, as I was walking into the store I noticed a woman out of the corner of my eye struggling with several bags. So I stopped and held the door open for her and offered to help her to a table. Boom: I got the job without even doing the interview. Because the woman with the bags was the same woman that I was to interview with. I’ll never forget what she told me as she explained her set-up. “I already knew you were smart from your resume. Smart people aren’t as hard to come by as you’d think; but kind people, that’s a different story. You can know all the chemistry in the world but you can’t teach it effectively until you can teach it kindly. And for the record, she did not equate “kind” with “indulgent.” I worked for her for three years and was amazed at how well kind and firm can work together.
(True story: I did not at that time choose to enlighten her that I did not know all the chemistry in the world and that kindness notwithstanding, you can’t teach it effectively if you’re too busy putting out the fire you started in the lab. Although my students loved that lesson and I daresay they never forgot it!)
You never know who is watching you.
With kids, I learn this lesson over and over again. From the time I found a panty liner stuck to the inside of Jelly Bean’s diaper (note to self: shut bathroom door) to the time my son lectured a friend on the horrors of milk chocolate chip cookies (“If you’re going to make a cookie, at least use dark chocolate and whole oat flour!” sounds kind of horrifying coming from a kindergartner). They even notice in what order I brush my teeth. And we won’t talk about what happened when one kid accidentally hit me right between the eyes with a metal doorknob and before I even recognized the string of curse words that came out of my mouth, they were being parroted in tiny sing-song voices at top decibel. (Imagine Cinderella’s mice happily singing and then without even changing inflection, dropping an F-bomb with at least 17 syllables.) Took us weeks to un-teach that one. Mostly because we couldn’t stop giggling every time the baby said it. It was hilarious. (Mother of the year!)
It’s not just little people either. At the store someone may be making mental notes about your grocery purchases to blog about later. Or the waitress at your fave restaurant may be snapping a pic of you inhaling a massive appetizer on her cellphone to post to Facebook later. Or that “ice cream taste test” you signed up for is really a psychological study to see how piggy people get when left alone with limitless delicious dairy desserts. Or a private video you took suddenly ends up in the merciless hands of the Internet. (No not THAT kind of vid, people. I’m not Pamela Anderson (in so many ways). It was a rogue video of me singing Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam and that is all you are ever going to know about it.)
So now you know. What do you do?
You can’t live your life as if you are on a 24/7 reality show. It’s a form of narcissism that I’m not sure has any parallel in any other era. (Hello Real Housewives of Everywhere!). And yet you can’t be the person who says they don’t care a whit about what other people think and always do their own thing. At best that’s a bald-faced lie and at worst it’s total social ineptitude. You have to find a balance.
Eh, I suck at balance. We’ve established that. My general strategy is the overshare. If I tell you first then it’s no biggie if my secrets get spilled. Which basically means I have no secrets. (My parents are so proud!). Others respond by locking up, avoiding social media and wearing their earphones at all times so as to avoid any potential conversations with others. Still others respond by living the most boring lives they can think of thereby not giving anyone any fodder with which to judge them. (Kidding! Nobody’s that boring. We can totes find a way to judge you!)
But I’m serious. I want to know what balance you’ve found? Does knowing that you are always being watched make a difference in how you live your life? Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you were just doing your thang and then it turns out you were being watched? Or on camera??
Dear Adrianne, you might not recognize Ward with his old dye job. He’d like you to know that tonight is his turn to hold the remote.