Ever seen a spotted zebra?

Ever seen a spotted zebra? -

Posted on 19/06/2013

A few thoughts on why people stare…

As I walk down the street or through a shopping Mall I’m very aware of people turning their heads to get a better look. Some will actually come to a full stop and stare, others do the classic double take. If they are walking with friends then I can often spot nudges and whispered conversations followed by two heads spinning round so they can both see. On occasions there are comments too and I can often hear laughter as they walk away having made some undoubtedly side splitting comment about me.

To be honest, on a good day it amuses me. I have suggested that they take a picture so it lasts longer and from time to time I might also wink, blow a kiss or stick my tongue out. On a less good day it can still make me want to go and hide and on those occasions I have been known to snap.

One of those which sticks in my mind was when I was crossing the street in a busy City Centre and the ubiquitous ‘white van man’ drove past and shouted ‘Who ate all the pies?’ Sadly for him me having a bad day coincided with the traffic lights turning red and so he was unable to escape as I banged my fist repeatedly on the van window and asked him if he had something he wanted to say to me. I still remember his rigid, terrified face staring straight ahead and his knuckles turning white as he prayed for the lights to change. Not very dignified, but oddly satisfying!

People who want a cheap laugh and bullies like the van man aside I’m genuinely interested in why people stare. After much careful thought, and a few glasses of cheap white wine, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an evolutionary thing.

Man the Hunter is somehow genetically programmed to spot anything different in the same way that a Lion on the hunt can spot a limping Zebra. There is a reason why herds of them all look identical – and also why you never see a Zebra with spots. They’re different enough so the Zebra Mums can tell their kids apart but anyone who looks too different is at an evolutionary disadvantage and quickly ends up as a Lions lunch.

Somehow in our genetic makeup there are people we ‘expect’ to see within our culture and anyone who doesn’t fit into it gets a second look. The staring isn’t always hostile, or even judgmental, but there’s definitely a deep seated need to look and identify a threat or prey.

This (probably) half baked theory of mine explains why people with disabilities, fat people, people of different skin colours etc get stared at – and also possibly why an accident on the North bound carriageway of the Motorway causes a tailback on the South bound road too. We don’t mean to be rude, and we don’t want to look – but somehow we just can’t help ourselves.

Next time I get stared at I’m going to try to maintain my dignity and silently tell myself that those looking just aren’t very evolved. I suspect though that I’m more likely to stick my tongue out – just like them, I can’t always help myself :)