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So ... What?

What are you looking at?

It’s a simple, five-word sentence, a question which holds no significance other than simple, innocent curiosity …

… on its face.

But what does it really mean? Just like the answer to so many questions, it depends. When we verbalize it, by simply shifting emphasis and inflection between the words gives it a different meaning, attitude and impact.

What are you looking at?

If spoken with a sense of urgency, it can exhibit panic by the questioner as they fear what someone else sees lurking in the darkness, maybe something dangerous or life-threatening.

What are you looking at?

It can be threatening (i.e., “Mind your own business”) as it’s directed back toward the curious party, who hasn’t asked a question at all, but who has made the questioner uncomfortable by noticing something abnormal (or unacceptable) in their behavior.

What are you looking at?

Maybe it’s a curious parent, wondering what has captivated their child’s attention in the grass in the backyard, or more likely, on their phone held close to their face as they smile and laugh.

What are you looking at?

A flattered and embarrassed spouse or significant other rhetorically questioning their mate who can’t take their eyes off the most beautiful or handsome creature they’ve ever laid eyes on.

What are you looking at?

It portends consequences are looming, like when it’s delivered by a teacher who has just caught a student cheating on a test.

What are you looking at?

It’s a throw-away piece of small talk, an icebreaker, tossed out as someone enters a room while a friend sits in front of the TV or reads a book.

What are you looking at?

One doctor asking another with stoic concern as they pore over a patient’s file, trying to find clues that will diagnose pain or disease.

What are you looking at?

It’s two people, lying on the ground, gazing at a clear night sky, and one poses the question as the infinity of space spreads out before them.

What are you looking at?

It’s an uncle or aunt who wants to know what their 18-year-old niece or nephew plan to do after high school.

What are you looking at?

I could go on and on, and if I engaged my best friend/cousin Mike, we could easily play the “What are you looking at?” game for hours … and love every minute of it.

But you get the picture, and right now, your question for all this is probably, “Why?”

Fair enough. I have no good answer, other than this question, “What are you looking at?” popped into my head as I came down the stairs this morning. I don’t know why or how it got into my brain at that place and time, but it did.

And, for better or worse (only you can make that determination), it stuck with me.

And after saying it a couple of times, I started to think about how something this simple – this five-word question that seems so basic – represents the true complexity of life. Whether it’s words, numbers, actions or ideas, nothing is as simple as it seems.

I guess that’s not completely true. In the animal world, black and white is much more common. It’s simple survival, getting through the day the only way you know how. Using your place in the world and on the food chain to “do what you do” without much deviation.

It’s when humans -- with our words, our numbers, our premeditated actions and intentions and our ideas -- get involved that life and the world get complicated, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

But what it really exemplifies is the power of words and how we deliver them because they matter: not just for the person making the statement or asking the question, but also for the person or people receiving it.

As is often the case, I’m not sure I made much sense today, and there’s a good chance I’m the only one still “here” at this point in the piece, but that’s what was on my mind this morning, and for what it’s worth, I thought I’d throw it out there.

I hope what you’re “looking at” today brings you happiness and does some good for others.

© 2023 David R. Haznaw

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