This post was originally published on July 6, 2011 on my old blog, An Excellent Library. There, I would share my thoughts on my current read and any rabbit trails it sent my mind down. 

trishajennreads' black glasses

I’ve begun reading The Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The copy I have is a large edition printed in the same style (two columns) with the original illustrations by Sidney Paget, as originally published in The Strand Magazine in the 1890s. It is quite fun to look at but hefty to lug around.

The entire collection, except for the one novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a collection of short stores. Each story is approximately 10 pages long. A sufficient length, not too long that the story gets too convoluted, but not too short that is is difficult to fill in the details necessary. There is a slight connection between the storylines, but not enough to carry a plot through them all. They are simply individual reports of various cases Holmes and Watson have worked on together. Each piece I have read so far is written from the perspective of Watson and his experience assisting Holmes with investigations.

My favourite aspect so far as been the simple statement of Holmes to Watson: “You have seen but you have not observed.” Sherlock Holmes knows all about a person–where they have been, what they do, who they are–simply by observing them for a moment. Watson doesn’t understand how. Holmes’ powers of observation and deduction are impressive. Watson sees the same things as Holmes but does not see them for what they indicate. He sees the surface, not the underlying information.

How often do we do this, see but not observe?

We see but we do not observe. We see the things around us, the body language of people we speak to, the little quirks about the way people dress or act, and yet we do not observe. We do not recognize the ideas, positions, fears, needs behind all of these things. We do not recognize that the girl who always wears long sleeves, even in hot weather, and consistently tugs them at the wrists does not do so because it is comfortable. She does it because there are marks on her arms she doesn’t want others to see. The man with worn knees on his trousers has been doing something upon his knees…as a desk worker that should be a hint that something else is up. They are not simply “old pants”. The seat would wear out before the knees would. Unless his office connects with the basement of a bank.

We don’t recognize that the person we are speaking with, our friend, our spouse, our neighbour, is struggling with something, making changes in their life, needing something – because we see them but we don’t observe them.

How much more significant would our relationships be if we observed the hints we see?

Holmes used his powers of acute observation to solve mysteries – murders, thievery, deceptions. We can use powers of observation to build better friendships and relationships with our families. I wonder how much better we would know our friends if we observed instead of just seeing.

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