Does noticing matter? Of course it does. Lawyers notice for a living: the displeasure of the judge, the anxiety of a witness, the significance of a precedent. Doctors do too. House is top doc because he notices first and best. Crime solving depends upon noticing the faintest clues, with or without the use of an electron microscope.
As a culture, we talk a lot about the importance of reading. Literacy is a particularly big deal in Canada (where I am at the moment). I’ve been corresponding with Michael Johnson about an organization devoted to encouraging parents to read with their child.
This is well and good. But reading is really just a way of devoting ourselves to what other people have noticed. And in a culture that is moving at break neck speed from the passive mode to the active mode, surely it is time to "get behind" noticing as much as we have reading. (When you notice, you are driven to read, but the reverse is not also true.)
I have another motive for caring about noticing. My nephew has taken up football. Now this is fine. Personally I believe football saved my life. I was raised in a home with a strict ceremonial regime, and the discovery that I could strap on pads and just run into people came as the happiest revelation of my young life. I loved football. But we all know I think that football can turn a young man to thoughtlessness and so Pam and I resolved to take Andrew shopping for shoes.
Shoes? Yes, the plan is to take Andrew to a mall, to give him 30 bucks and have him join us in the food court with a pair of shoes he has just bought. The plan is to have him describe these shoes, with perfect clarity, using not a word more than he has to, not a detail less than is necessary We are not going to look till he’s done. Then we’ll see.
Now, God kows what he is going to find for 30 bucks and if there is something inherently ludicrous about an 11 year old buying shoes, well, that’s ok. This is the first rule of noticing. It’s ok to look silly. You are going to look silly. Noticing sometimes makes us look conspicuous and if we are not prepared to pay this small price for noticing, well, too bad. The game is over before it starts.
The idea is help Andrew to see details, and to talk about them. The more he does, the better he will get at it. What’s odd is that we are a culture devoted to self improvement of every kind. That airport book store is bursting with books about how to be happier, smarter, thinner, richer, and more successful. But no one has written a book on noticing. Maybe Andrew will.