The Passing … of the Passing Glance

The passing glance … the theme of my adventure this year. As many of you know I have an insatiable desire to look at people … people in the street, in restaurants, parks, airport … anywhere I could get my fix. I believe it’s my way to stay in touch with what’s going on and most importantly waves in human behaviour. This lifelong affinity to watching (I blame my childhood order of “children should be seen and not heard”) has certainly ushered me into some interesting situations and of course, to some more than interesting people.

For many years now I have often felt invisible. I know it’s hard to believe as I do take up more space than the average 5’7 individual. But it’s true. Whether it be sitting alone in a restaurant waiting for service, being jostled in a crowd by completely unaware individuals or passed on a street by others so self absorbed they dare not glance in my direction. This feeling was especially heightened on my silent retreat when the most challenging part of the week was not the silence but the lack of eye contact by another human being.

By definition, a glance is basically a quick look. That’s it. It’s not lingering nor suggestive; it shouldn’t be awkward or weird; and ideally is never intended to cause discomfort. It’s merely a “psst, I see ya.”

I conducted a micro- mini experiment in September at the airport. As I headed towards my gate and glanced at every person who passed me, I started to count … out of 100, it took the 55th people to look at me for a split second. One person in a hundred. Wow, had I known I wouldn’t have even put lipstick on.

Later walking around Vancouver I was astounded by the lack of ‘looking’ by most individuals I passed. At one point along a path at the water, the only person to glance was a toddler, who followed me with his eyes for a long minute (as I turned around he was still watching me), as his parents tried to whisk him along. Don’t think too hard on this one but it does tell you something.

Admittedly I am not a trained researcher (and I hated stats at university) but I am an observer of life around me and I do not shy away from social experiments. So here’s my latest …

For a period of 15 days (over 3 weeks) I will head out to a different part of Oakville where I will go for a stroll. And as I stroll I will look (take a peak) at each person I pass. And with counter in hand, I will note how many of the first 100 will issue a ‘passing glance’. My goal is not to make a new friend, engage in friendly conversation, or even smile and say “good morning.” (Although I am open to any of the above if the opportunity arises.) I’m merely searching for the split second glance.

I have my own ideas of what my findings will be and as usual, will report on them later. How about you … any thoughts?



  1. I absolutely agree with your observance of human nature. Not a soul will look up to smile at a walker, a very self absorbed society we live in.

  2. I know your numbers are going to be low Carole in Oakville, this from my own experience while walking. If you conducted your experiment in Ireland it would be significantly higher, again from my own experience.

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