Last summer I attended a conference. One of the speakers had us all stand up and slowly walk around the room. At random intervals, she would stop us, and ask us to make contact with a random nearby stranger.
We were instructed to silently gaze into the other person’s eyes, while the speaker led us through a variety of meditations. This was simultaneously one of the most awkward and most profound moments of my life. With each new stranger, it became more comfortable. By the end, many of us were crying and hugging (at least those of us who hadn’t slipped out the back door).
Human beings crave to be seen. Even the most introverted introverts need other people (even if just a few friends or family members) to acknowledge their value as humans. This is why some people desire fame, why some people are loud and obnoxious, why so many people live for Facebook “likes” (*guilty*), and why some people write blogs (*clearly also guilty*). We all have our own ways of fighting invisibility.
In the movie, Avatar, the phrase “I see you” is a greeting that roughly means “I understand who you are.” In his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein uses the phrase “I grok you” to mean that I “understand intuitively or by empathy, establish rapport with you.” I find a simple beauty in these ideas.
Sometimes, we get wrapped up so much in our own heads, our own goals and our own responsibilities, that we forget to truly see the other people in our lives. We forget to stop and give our full attention. Too often we jump in with our own stories before fully listening and understanding the other person. Our silent construction of responses or our rush to find parallels in our own lives often takes the place of actual listening. This is a habit I am desperately trying to break.
Maybe you have people in your life who can truly see you. I am fortunate to be married to someone who can. I have also had other people at various points in my life who have done this for me, and a short list of close friends and family who do. I believe that one of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is the attention that lets them know that they are actually being seen. I offer my warmest and deepest thanks to the people in my life, now and in the past, who have given me this gift.
My 2018 New Year’s wish for you, is that you will see and be seen. May your year be filled with family and friends who will share in your own unique and weird journey, and let you know how special you are.
Happy New Year Everyone!