There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen. When you are looked at, your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light. One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen. ~Amanda Palmer
Looking at someone is easy. It’s purely physiological. Light waves enter our eyes and the brain renders those waves into an image. We look at hundreds of people every day at home, in the office, on the train, in the streets, sleeping next to us. How many do we really see?
Seeing each other is hard. Seeing past the surface, peeking behind the facade, viewing past the mask to the real person behind the public persona is extremely difficult. Seeing a person requires the building of trust. It takes focused effort. It requires seeing with more than eyes. Seeing someone is an archaeological dig slowly brushing away the protective layers built over the years, the accumulated dirt, debris, detritus until one finally comes face to face with the fragile treasure, too long hidden from the world.
As difficult as it is to build a measure of trust where a person feels safe enough to let their naked self be seen, it is equally, if not more, difficult to see through the scales covering our own eyes, scales that distort the person into a caricature of who they really are. To see, we must undertake the arduous task of focusing beyond our biases, our preconceptions, our xenophobia, our prejudices. This is a challenging task because we don’t realize we are looking through lenses that distort reality into one we find palatable. We believe we see reality. We believe we see people as they truly are. We believe we see with crystal clarity.
It is easy to see the obvious misconceptions others hold about us. But we tend to be almost completely blind to our own misconceptions about others. Because it is impossible to see clearly through a lens thick with unknown biases, we are in a perpetual state of approaching others in a shroud of ignorance as to who they authentically are behind their masks. Behind their masks, through our tarnished vision, people move about steeped in the unknown.
We are quick to fear the unknown person. During WWII, the unknown were the Japanese Americans, many born US citizens, so banished them to prison camp. For much of our history, we feared people of color so pushed them to the curb as we walked the streets of our cities. Today, it’s the Muslim’s we fear, the Mexicans we fear. For the very blind, the hardcore xenophobics, anyone from another country is feared.
Psychologically, it’s a very short step from unknown to fear. Another short step from ignorance to hatred. We fall down those steps easily because we don’t view others worthy of being seen. It’s so much easier to fear the unknown, much easier to hate the unknown than it is to embrace the unknown.
How does one really see another?
The first step to seeing a person requires far more than looking with the eyes. Truly seeing a person requires that we approach them with our hearts, meet them naked heart to naked heart. Seeing each other is hard because it requires radical love. We speak loftily of love. Poets dream of love. Countless stories have been written about romantic love. They misunderstand the true nature of love when they box love up in a cage called feelings believing love is feeling in love. Love is not simply a feeling. Love is a verb, an action word, a doing word.
Examples of what it means to truly love others come from the lives of some of the greatest proponents of radical love from our history. We can look to Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King all who loved others unto their own deaths.
They were killed by the fearful because they proposed love for all not just love of those that looked like us. They preached that love means loving our enemies. We fear embracing that level of love because it means embracing the unknown despite our hatred. It means letting go of hatred long enough to see the enemy behind the mask. It means letting go of fear long enough to actually to know our enemy. It means loving enough that we invest the effort to make the unknown person a known friend.
Seeing each other is hard because it requires loving ourselves enough to remove the scales from our own eyes. It requires loving others enough to invest time to build trust taking a risk by removing our masks and exposing our naked souls. Only when we are naked is it possible to love radically.
Are you willing to get naked with me?