Being a fly on the wall

Whether I find myself at home, at events (e.g. weddings, conferences), or in any public space (e.g. train, café, supermarket), I often find myself almost becoming like an invisible observer. It's not about being a nosy parker, but rather about being present, and the opportunity to witness the world around me.

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Manjit Kaur

By Manjit Kaur | Opinion |

In Gurbani, listening and observing are seen as more important than speaking. As Guru Arjan says, “Pure are those who speak but accepted are those who listen” (Guru Granth Sahib, Page 193). Elsewhere Guru Nanak in Jap Bani identifies listening as the starting point of one’s spiritual journey. “Listening and believing with love and humility in your mind is the virtuous path” (GGS, 4).

In the vast range of human interactions, there exists an important role; that of a silent observer, or if you like, a ‘fly on the wall’. It’s not a literal insect buzzing around but rather a metaphoric perspective that allows an individual to be present in various situations, absorbing their surroundings without actively participating. This is a practice I find myself doing without even thinking, but my motivation goes beyond mere curiosity; it’s a deliberate act of understanding the complexities of human behaviour.

Whether I find myself at home, at events (e.g. weddings, conferences), or in any public space (e.g. train, café, supermarket), I often find myself almost becoming like an invisible observer. It’s not about being a nosy parker, but rather about being present, and the opportunity to witness the world around me. For sure I engage in conversations, but part of me always remains a detached observer, or if you like, a fly on the wall.

As I stand in the crowd, my senses become attuned to the environment, and I absorb what I can hear and see around me; the buildings, the people and the dynamics of the situation. There’s a certain beauty in being a silent observer of the ebb and flow of human interactions, witnessing both the words spoken and the body language of the participants. It’s almost like being a member of the audience watching a play on the stage.

After the event or situation, I start to process my thoughts. This can sometimes be immediate, but on other occasions, it takes days to process what I observed. The kinds of questions I think of are: What unfolded in those spaces? What was the pulse of the event? What did I see? What did I hear? And, when I am reflecting on a situation that I was part of, I will also think about what my feelings and emotions were and how I behaved.

In reflecting, I focus on the different dimensions of human behaviour. How do people behave in groups? How do they find comfort and support in shared dialogues? What triggers changes in people’s moods? and how do their thoughts influence their actions?

Being a ‘fly on the wall’ in a situation which includes observing your actions, it’s like you are both in the audience and on the stage. It allows you to engage in what psychologist Donald Schön called ‘reflection in action’. This idea emphasises an ability that some people have to think and adapt in an ongoing situation. It involves being aware of one’s actions, thoughts, and feelings in real-time and allowing for adjustments.

Learning in action is different to learning after an event, which he called ‘reflection on action’. Reflecting on action, which occurs after an event or situation, has its advantages as it allows for a more in-depth analysis. It promotes deeper understanding, learning from mistakes, and identifying patterns over time.

The role of the fly on the wall is not merely about collecting data; it’s about immersing yourself in the world around you and human experiences. It’s about appreciating the interconnectedness of individuals in different spaces and situations. As I continue this journey of silent observation, I realize that being a fly on the wall is not just a technique; it’s a mindset, an openness to understanding the world without judgment, interference, or prejudice.

Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter at the 1 Show Live at Panjab Broadcasting Channel, UK. She can be contacted via email at manjitkaur1show@gmail.com

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