Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To See and Be Seen

Last week I had a strange dream. I won't go into details (since stock prices are more interesting to read than other people's dreams) but basically at one point in the dream, someone asked me what I want the most. After careful consideration, I replied that I want the ability to see others and to be seen.

This dream  followed an experience I had with a good friend who I used to confide in on a fairly regular basis. Last week, I sat across from him at his desk and shared one of the major changes I have made over the past few months. I knew he would not agree with my decision but I wanted him to try and understand my experience and the WHY behind my decision.

Unfortunately, he dismissed me quickly with eye rolling and a tangent that reflected a lack of empathy for others with different experiences than his. As I sat across from him, I began to feel invisible. He was looking at me but he couldn't see me. I fought the urge to stand on his desk and shout "I'm right here! LOOK at me!"

This week, I had another experience of telling a different friend about the same decision. With sensitivity, she asked thoughtful questions. She LISTENED and tried to UNDERSTAND my perspective. And although she, too, may not ultimately agree with my decision, she assured me that it doesn't change her good opinion of me. After our conversation, she thanked me and told me that she had gained a much broader perspective from hearing my thoughts. She could see me.

I know that I, too, have dismissed others at times. I have chosen not to see them, either to spare myself pain and discomfort or simply because their experiences were vastly different than mine and I did not care to try and understand. I not only missed out the opportunity to connect with these people; I also prevented myself from gaining new insights and broadening my vision.

One of my favorite parts from Lucy Grealy's brilliant "Autobiography of a Face" discusses how people were drawn to Grealy because she loved them for who they were rather than who she wanted them to be. She could see them. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Love them.

Seeing is suspending judgment while we patiently listen to another's story. Seeing is asking questions, and showing interest, care and concern. Seeing is allowing the person to be vulnerable in front of us and inviting him or her to be authentic. Seeing is trying to understand where they are coming from -- what experiences have shaped them? Why do they make the decisions they do? What do they want and what are their struggles?

Even if we're frustrated, hurt or angry, can we acknowledge them? Can we see them?

And do we seek after relationships where we, too, are seen? What makes you feel seen or dismissed?

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