I sat down in a café today to do some work, away from the usual distractions at the office, away from people. The café was virtually empty so I grabbed a drink, spread my papers out on the table and started to read and make notes.
Within minutes, a bloke came and sat at the table behind me. Now this is a big café, lots of tables, and he sat directly behind me. Not only that, he fired up his laptop then sat muttering to himself loudly, continually.
He went on and on…droning on. I felt angry, irritated. Can’t he see I’m a raving introvert?? It’s like when I park miles from anyone in a car park, only to return and find a car parked so close to mine I can hardly open the door.
What’s wrong with these people? Why do they follow me? Why can’t they just leave me alone? I went to a beach once, set up my tent at the far end, away from anyone. Within no time, some people set up right beside me. Why??
Perhaps there’s something about me that’s wildly interesting, attractive. People just want to be near me. Hmmm… Perhaps some people just want to be near people. They imagine I want to be near other people too.
So they take pity on me. Look at that lonely soul. Let’s pitch up next to him, make him feel better. They imagine that because they need company, I need company. They don’t like to be alone, so they think I don’t like to be alone.
Perhaps that’s it. It’s empathy. Misplaced perhaps, but better than persecuting me. So I tried to grin and not look too obvious, too rejecting, as I picked up my papers, grabbed another drink and moved to another table.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do like people. Well some, err…most people. Most of the time. In fact, I work with people pretty much all of the time. I live and socialise with other people too. But sometimes I need space, to be alone.
I wonder how often we superimpose onto other people what we ourselves need. What we imagine others want. I wonder how often I’m insensitive to what others need just because it doesn’t feature for me. That's food for thought.
Nick Wright is a coach and consultant, specialising in reflective practice.