Snooping is something that comes naturally to all people -- but unfortunately, it usually comes with negative results. There's a betrayal of trust involved, regardless of whether or not the conspiracy is uncovered -- and the more focused and protracted the invasion of privacy, the more acid the confrontation, when it happens -- and it always happens, no matter what the con artists say. To quote the old (but very true) cliché: Your sins will find you out.
I'm not talking about the harmless kind of snooping, which isn't snooping at all -- peering over a friend's shoulder at what they're reading or writing, stopping in the middle of the kitchen to try and make sense of your mother's phone call. I mean the kind of snooping that you do when your target's back is turned. The kind of snooping you do when you want to know something and you really shouldn't, so you try to do it in such a way that you won't get caught.
The most valuable lesson I ever learned about snooping was during ten adventurous years as a babysitter when I lived in a fair-sized city in Alabama. As I came into my teenage years, more and more opportunities for babysitting began to crop up, which was fine with me since I, like all 14-year-olds, was itching for some spending money. What disturbed me, however, was some of the advice I was receiving from other babysitters -- girls I thought I respected... "Oh, you're sitting for the Jones family? Well, let me tell you where the Mister has all his Playboys stashed." "The Greens? Oh yes, they've got this locked cupboard in the back of their master bedroom with all kinds of liquor. I found the key buried in the sock drawer, beneath..."
Well -- you get the idea. I soon found out that it was standard practice for most babysitters I knew to rummage through all the cupboards and closets, drawers and cabinets as soon as the kids were put to bed. It was what most of them did, and yet the thought of someone coming into my house, going through all my closets, snooping in all my journals, looking for all my weak spots, absolutely burned me up. So I made the decision to never deliberately invade the privacy of any family that I was babysitting for; if my duties did not require for me to mess with something, I'd leave well enough alone. After all, it is a high token of respect when a family invites you in, usually on short notice, and lets you have free reign of the house for an extended amount of time. To take advantage of that trust is a breach of confidence.
That personal motto paid off. One night I was called to sit for a young couple who had just moved to the area and, knowing no one, had received my name and number through a friend of a friend who had heard that I did some babysitting. The house was in typical just-moved disorder, but I concentrated on the one-year-old and left the boxes and spare rooms alone. When the couple returned, the wife did an automatic scan of the premises: nothing out of place, nothing moved. I know she poked around some more after I left, to see if I had done some poking around. A few weeks later they asked me to sit again -- and after that things took off. This family turned out to be one of the most wealthy and influential families in our city, and it wasn't long before I had more offers from very well-paying clients than I knew what to do with. Again and again my clients would tell me how they appreciated that things were always in order when they came home.
There were other factors to my success as well -- I played with the kids and rarely parked them in front of the TV, I would sweep or dust if I got bored, I brought over books to read to the kids as they were bedding down for the night. But I also knew that if I really wanted to get a glimpse into the inner psyche of any family, I only had to look as far as the obvious -- their books, their movies, and their food. What they read, what they watch, and what they eat tell more about a person or a family than any amount of amateur sleuthing, and those are the three areas of a person's house that never go into hiding. Processed foods? Time management books? Action videos? These people have more commitments than they have time to do them. Fresh foods? Leftovers made from scratch? Lots of storybooks and chapter novels? Long romantic videos? These people take life at a more leisurely pace, and take delight in the smaller things. They don't have to be entertained -- they know how to live.
Snooping, in the right context, can be a harmless, good thing; but I have learned over the years that not to snoop builds trust, cements relationships, introduces friends and -- sometimes -- brings golden opportunities.
Besides -- if there's anything you really want to know about someone, you rarely have to go farther than the obvious. Take that from someone who knows.
e x t e s s a y -
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by Jo Stepaniak All rights reserved.
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