In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Senge describes a tribe in South Africa whose members greet each other not with, “Hello,” but by saying, “I see you.” The response to this is, “I am here.” There’s a lot of substance in this interaction.
What most people want is to be seen and to feel present and authentic in their life.
I can offer innumerable examples of people NOT being seen. Our daughter’s basketball coach never appreciated which players were best at guarding, dribbling or sinking 3-point shots and so let the talents of the girls go unutilized. While this was unfortunate, the inability to be seen pervades most of our professional lives, where it has even greater impact. Physicians aren’t valued for their excellent patient care because they are viewed as less productive than some of their peers. Budding leaders are passed over because those in leadership positions don’t take the time to notice their skills and desire to contribute. Our good ideas aren’t acknowledged because we’re not as forceful in asserting our opinions. It’s frustrating to not have people recognize what we have to offer – to not “see” us. It makes us doubt who we are and the value we bring. We wonder if we’re not seen because there’s nothing remarkable to see.
But being seen is just half of the equation. What about the part when we say, “I am here?” When we show up authentically and contribute in meaningful ways.
Much has been written about what holds us back from bursting out as the full version of ourselves. We fear we won’t be good enough or won’t be accepted. We secretly believe we’ve managed to fool people by hiding who we are and that, if they discover what’s lurking behind the facade we present to the world, they won’t like or respect us. The truth is, as Dr. Seuss so aptly advised, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
I’ve written before about my beloved cousin, who stayed hidden for decades. Now living as the transgender woman she is, she is a dynamic and positive force in her community, bringing people together to support important causes. While there have been difficulties in her transition, the aliveness with which she now lives is inspiring and she has found an acceptance and purpose that eluded her for most of her life. Until she decided to allow herself to be known, no one could actually “see” her. The “catch-22” is that, while we desperately want people to see and accept us, when we pretend to be someone we’re not, we never allow that to happen. We deflect any acceptance we receive because we secretly know that it is not our true self who is being accepted.
What aspect of yourself do you really want people to recognize? How can you let people know what you have to offer? In what way can you “be here” so that others can “see” the real you? Only by showing up as our authentic self can we bring our gifts to the world, connect with others and be accepted. Imagine how exciting it would be to live like that. To be here. And to be seen.