Tiny grey birds and the magic of attention

A few weeks ago I discovered an entirely new bird species in my neighborhood. Right after that, I started seeing them everywhere. The birds were likely there the whole time, but I was completely oblivious to them. Now that I know what to look for, I can’t fathom how I missed them for the previous 30 years.

Few people watch out for city birds as much as I do. But they may overlook other humans around them as well. My friend and her fiancĂ© passed each other for years before they officially met. Now that they’re together, she found him in the background of her old photos, and vice versa. Even though they went to the same parties, they never talked to each other at that time.

Unless you know something exists, it’s not easy to notice it. I’m sure there were always plenty of fieldfares in my neighborhood, but without having an appropriate category in my head to classify them, I must have either ignored their presence or mistaken them for another species. Only since I noticed their own distinct features, I was able to match the pattern and recognize them correctly.

Now if a scarlet macaw suddenly appeared in my local park I would certainly notice one even if I never heard about macaws before. They’re bright and colorful enough to attract all the attention, especially compared with Polish birds that are usually black or grey. But a fieldfare, with a grey head and brown wings, can be easily mistaken for a small pigeon, or even unnoticed when hiding in tall grass.

Knowing this, I can’t help but wonder. How many things happening around me I am unable to see because I don’t have the right categories in my head to make sense of the experience? How many experiences and people I overlook because they’re not flashy and colorful enough? And most importantly, what are the things I choose to focus my attention on? Because if my experience with fieldfares can be extrapolated to other situations in life, then once you focus on something, there will suddenly be much more of it than you can imagine.

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