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By Gillcraft

Observation of the Individual

Baden-Powell advised us when traveling by train, tram or 'bus to notice every little thing about our fellow-travelers: their faces, dress, way of talking and so on, so that we could describe them pretty accurately afterwards. We have plenty of opportunities of such practice, and, although we cannot always test the correctness of any deduction we make, it does add more interest both to the observation and the journey if we try and think of the characters and occupations of each.

The judging of character from appearances is very difficult indeed, and so do not imagine that you will make much of a success of it, or that a super-sleuth has been lost in you. Men with the specialist training and experience of years behind them frequently make mistakes.

It was some such practice as this that Kim was given in Lurgan Sahib's shop in the Simla bazaar. All afternoon long he and the Hindu child would watch the many and curious visitors that came to the shop. At the end of the day they "were expected to give a detailed account of all that they had seen and heard-their view of each man's character, as shown in his face, talk, and manner, and their notions of his real errand."

Try this idea with your Scouts-let them have visitors to their Troop meetings and describe them afterwards. 

Before this you should, in order to point out important points, have done a certain amount of more elementary practice.

The old-fashioned shadowgraph, a sheet with a strong light behind it, is a useful means of demonstrating that it is possible to recognize an individual at a distance, before his features can be seen. Scouts pass in turn between the lamp and the screen, while the rest of the Troop, on the other side of the sheet, try to identify them. At first they will guess according to height and length of nose, both of which naturally vary as the relation of lamp, Scout and screen varies. Later they will begin to realize that it is the set of shoulders and bead, and the set of the knees and the gait that are the more constant marks of recognition.

A Scouter was watching a display of Scout pictures in a district where he was well known. Suddenly there was a loud and prolonged burst of applause. "What is all the fuss about ?" he asked the fellow sitting next to him. "Oh, that was you they were applauding. Didn't you see yourself walking away?" The others had recognized him by his walk; he could not recognize himself.

It is the same when we come to the question of disguises: a further and very important step in the observation of the individual.

After dinner Lurgan Sahib's fancy turned more to what might be called dressing-up, in which game he took a most informing interest. He could paint faces to a marvel; with a brush-dab here and a line there changing them past recognition. The shop was full of all manner of dresses and turbans, and Kim was appareled variously as a young Mohammedan of good family, an oilman, and once--which was a joyous evening--as the son of an Oudh landholder in the fullest of full dress. Lurgan Sahib had a hawk's eye to detect the least flaw in the make-up; and lying on a worn teakwood couch, would explain by the half-hour together how such and such a caste talked, or walked, or coughed, or spat, or sneezed, and, since 'hows' matter little in this world, the 'why' of everything. The Hindu child played this game clumsily. That little mind, keen as an icicle where tally of jewels was concerned, could not temper itself to enter another's soul; but a demon in Kim woke up and sang with joy as he put on the changing dresses, and changed speech and gesture therewith.

The important part of a disguise is not so much the dressing the part, that is comparatively easy, but the acting of it. That is one of the reasons why play-acting is of undoubted use in the practice of Scouting. It enables us to put ourselves in the place of another, to live his life, to dream his thoughts. It will be found later on that this is of considerable importance in Tracking.

Kim's training in disguises stood him in good stead when he was called upon later on to save the Mahratta from capture and death on the hot, dusty train journey between Somna Road and Delhi.

Let your training in observation then include the practice of disguise and acting a part. Set the Troop an example, if you can, by challenging them that they will not notice you between certain hours and within certain limits. Introduce games, such as "Dispatch Runners" into which the element of disguise enters. Indoor competitions to spot the  changes in uniform, or to discover what is being wrongly worn, or what is really, or apparently, missing, are also helpful.

Individuals will naturally differ in the points to which they look and in the deductions they make. A doctor was able to say that a man had been badly wounded some years previously in his left leg, because he noticed that when the man was tired his left shoulder dropped an inch or so lower than his right. Previous to this the man had congratulated himself on the fact that no one, who did not know, could tell because he had no signs of a limp.

The average woman's observation of individuals is probably more acute than that of the average man's. She has acquired a habit of looking at people, especially other women, so that at a glance she can tell what clothes they are wearing, the way they do their hair, and can describe their faces with fair accuracy. 

Judging height and build is important in the observation of individuals and special attention should be paid to these points. At first it will be found that the descriptions pay more attention to the clothes a person is wearing than to the person himself, whereas it is easier to change one's clothes than one's nature and personal build. As mentioned already in connection with the shadowgraph, it is not necessarily the obvious features that help to identify a person.

A slight change in the facial appearance, such as the absence, or addition, of a moustache will guard against a passing scrutiny, whereas a habit of gait or of carriage will give one away at once.

The actions of individuals should not be overlooked special training in observation is required in this particular.

The best way to start is to tell the Scouts that they have to observe every action of a particular person from the word "Go" to the word "Stop." The person selected need only go through a few more or less ordinary actions such as lighting a cigarette and walking a few paces. Afterwards his actions can be of a more complicated nature. It is best to have the observation done by Patrols so as to bring in an element of team work. In a short time it will be found that, by a division of labor, a Patrol can give a very accurate description of what has been done. This is a good game to play either indoors, or during a halt on an afternoon's outing.

Of a somewhat similar nature is "Dressing Statues." A victim is selected to act the part of the statue. The Troop is sent out of the room while the Scouters array and place the "statue" in a suitable position. The Patrol Leaders are called in and given a minute to observe the "statue." They are then given two minutes, or more, in which to tell their Patrols exactly what they have observed, meanwhile the "statue" returns to life and resumes his ordinary habiliments. At the end of two minutes the Patrol Leaders are called back and remain interested spectators of the subsequent proceedings. Each Patrol in turn is then called in and given a fixed period of time in which to rebuild and remodel the statue that the Patrol Leader has described to them.

But perhaps the best, as it is the most difficult, of all such observation practices is the "Unrehearsed incident."

In the midst of an ordinary Troop meeting or in the quiet of an afternoon in camp a boy suddenly staggers in crying for help, after him comes another with murderous intent. The first falls to the ground, stabbed, the second escapes. The incident is all over in a few seconds. Almost before the Scouts have realized the first appearance of the intruders, the "murderer" is gone and the body is left on the floor. Then, "Now then, you fellows, just write down a report to the police of what you have seen;" and the "corpse" can get up and dust his clothes. You can be sure that his description will be written up, but it doesn't help much because he has been done for. The "murderer" may get a word or two, and yet he is the one the police will want to know all about.

A careful analysis of the varying descriptions of the incident will well repay the time spent. It will be found that, at first, the differences are extraordinary: the sequence of events varies; the descriptions of the murderer vary; the type and color of clothes he wore vary; the duration of time varies; the words spoken vary. In fact it will usually be found that no two descriptions agree anywhere near together. It has been found that even trained students of observation cannot see a sudden incident such as this in exactly the same way. It has been the subject of psychological study and experiment, but into that side of the question we need not enter. It is sufficient to say that this is a stunt which is useful, and which can be repeated, though not exactly in the same form, time after time.

Mention may be made of another exercise since it is specially designed to train the deductive faculties.

A number of small articles, such as are carried in a man's pockets--match box, pencil, a few coins, an old bus ticket, the return half of a railway ticket, a small account-book, and so on--are placed on a tray or table. A small yarn is told of a man being found wandering about the railway station having lost his memory; the police are anxious to identify him if possible, but his description has been published and broadcast without result. The Troop has been invited to assist, so it will be best to make an inter-Patrol competition of it and see if anything can be deduced from the clues afforded by the contents of his pockets. Each Patrol should make out its own tale, and the Patrol-leaders should be told to give their reasons for any deduction they may make as to the man's habits, occupation, residence, etc. Naturally, considerable thought should be expended beforehand on the choice of articles so that they can be made up into some kind of logical story.

Thus in quite a simple way it is possible to bring in the sequence of observation, comprehension, analysis and deduction.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave an actual illustration of such a game: The following articles were laid on the table-an empty Swan match-box, a shut pocketknife, some small change, a handkerchief, cigarettes, another match-box-not Swan-containing matches. The Swan match-box, besides being empty, was slightly crushed and the inner part slightly torn. Certain letters on the label were marked with a tiny, unobtrusive dot, and these letters spelled out the following sentence: "Meet me Sat. at one." The Patrols were told that all these articles were found in the pockets of a man found murdered shortly after one o'clock on Saturday ; the empty match-box was grasped in the man's hand.

The story, briefly, was that the murdered man was a member of a gang that passed messages by means of the match-box. He had been suspected of betraying the others, and had been summoned to a lonely place and murdered. The murderers had tried to secure the match-box, but had been interrupted, and had fled, leaving it in their victim's grasp.

Two of the Patrols spotted the dots and got the story substantially correct. The others missed them, and were hopelessly at sea.

Strictly speaking, this game does not come within the scope of observation of the individual, but that is not very material. It is an observation game that can be played indoors or outdoors and affords plenty of room for deductive reasoning.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.