I was at a community gathering this last week. It’s in my nature to sit in the front rows of these things, most of the time. However, this time, drawn in by the presence of those I was sitting with and enjoying their conversation; I found myself in the back rows.

You can tell a lot about people and what’s going on in their lives by how they position themselves to the world around them.

Front Row is a mindset that gets close to the action. There’s focus (or should I say, a lack of distraction), energy, a certain wholeheartedness. These are people who embody the ‘Do All The Things’ philosophy of life. They are also, just like in rugby, the ones who take a lot of the hard hits, out there exposed in the frontlines of life. They tend to be the people who get to say things like “Did you see that?!”, because they did from right up close and personal. You’re a witness¬† to the action, so damn close you’re a participant.

Back Row is a different experience. From the back row, you’re less of a witness and more of an observer. The further back you are, the less you feel the need to throw your energy into it. From back there, you’re aware of something coming your way but you still have time to make a move. Dodging bullets is easy from the back row. Sneaking out before the closing act, moving sideways into multiple distractions. It gets busy and noisier in the back row; with so many different voices instead of just one loud voice. Sometimes you’re in the back row without a choice. Life demands you observe for a while.

Then there’s the Middle, stuck in the middle. You notice how people straggle into the front row but they stream into the middle? The safe zone. Too far back to be pulled out by the standup comedian, far enough forward that you’re close enough to the action to ‘count’, whatever that means.

Now that’s just the real life, sitting in the front row vs the back row of your favourite artist playing live or a movie you didn’t want to see in the first place. A town hall meeting to decide on something critical or joining a jury for a two week trial.

The metaphor is simple. You choose where you sit in relation to life. If all of life is a stage and we are merely players on it, a good number of just playing the part of the audience. Even then, we could be better at it.

Are we front row to the suffering of our friends and loved ones? Front row to their triumphs and victories? Do we let others close enough to be front row cheerleaders for us?

Are we back row bandits, or worse – middle row spreaders in light of our many social afflictions? Sitting in the back row; immediately I felt the affect on me. Less expectation, less participation. But I also felt further away – my voice less easily distinguished among the others.

Are you a front row or back row thinker? Proactively engaging in philosophical debate and pushing the boundaries? Finding better answers than what has gone before or sitting back and letting someone else do all the work?

There are an awful lot of people dying of boredom and distraction in the middle-back. It almost doesn’t matter what you get front row on (well, ok, a few things you really, really should avoid) but most of us need to find something that’s worth getting close up on again. Shelving that distraction and the wonder of the back.

‘I have never regretted a front row seat to life. In fact, I find the further back I sit, the less beauty I am able to see, the poorer I am.’