Yesterday I had a near death experience.
I was on I-80 East returning home from spending July 4th in the Bay area. I was coasting in the middle lane of the freeway when the mini-van to my left began merging into my lane, right where I was. No amount of horn honking from me or others fazed the driver as he continued moving through lanes of traffic cutting multiple cars off to get to his exit. I am surprised there wasn’t a multiple vehicle crash. Road rage engulfed me as I thought about pulling up next to the guy and flipping him off or screaming profanities. I managed to keep it to myself, like I usually will try and do. But I’m no better person for thinking about it.
After my heart rate had calmed back to normal and I no longer had murderous thoughts, I had a moment where my conscience caught up to me. I literally heard the words, “Jonathan, he didn’t see you.” These words repeated over and over in my mind for miles. He may not have been a professional quality driver, none of us really are. And it wasn’t that he was intending to be a road hog or driving bully. He simply didn’t see me, and it could’ve cost my life and his. Not being seen could’ve been incredibly tragic.
I began thinking about how much damage could’ve been done simply by not being seen. I was promptly reminded of a conversation with a marriage counselor my wife and I were meeting with last year. She spoke to us about the importance of seeing each other in a marriage relationship. Sometimes relationships are lost simply because we stop seeing each other.
The other day, my five year old son was doing something to get my attention. He kept saying, “Daddy, watch this!” followed by, “Daddy, did you see me?” At one point I said, “Yes Ezra, I saw you.” To which he replied, “No, daddy, you were looking at your phone.” Ouch. I never wanted to be that guy. I know what it feels like to not be seen. I have been hurt in conversations with friends or coworkers where I feel my ideas fall on deaf ears. I have been hurt by trying to spend “quality” time with my wife when I had to compete for her attention with her i-phone. When my son called me on my bluff, something inside of me broke. I was no different. Times where I may have been hurt or felt unseen were not as big of a deal compared to what I had just communicated to my son. Whatever I was reading was somehow more important to me in that moment than a real life relationship-building experience with my son, and I missed it.
While driving down the freeway, I continued to ponder how great of value it is to be seen. This concept overwhelmed me emotionally as I contemplated the potential impact of what had just happened along with my own personal life experiences and times where I haven’t seen or felt seen. I had to find the nearest exit to regain my composure. Picture a grown-ass man ugly crying. It wasn’t pretty.
How much life have I missed by not seeing the people right in front of me? How much of myself have I lost or given up by simply trying so hard to be seen?
For generations, people have invested in fashionable clothing, makeup and expensive perfumes to be seen. It’s no wonder the social media movement has become so increasingly huge. The other day I was talking with friends about drones. Someone mentioned that they are coming up with “selfie” drones which can follow you and record videos of you wherever you go. Are you kidding me? I often times find myself disgusted by the increase of a narcissistic society. It’s always been there, but I believe it’s becoming increasingly worse. At the core of this movement, however, is the innocent longing in all of us to simply be seen.
Being seen is perhaps the first step towards being acknowledged, loved and accepted. To be acknowledged that you exist is a priceless feeling.
I work with adolescents who have developed problematic behaviors and require extra support and attention. Whether it be anger management, social interaction, or basic coping skills, I have the opportunity to walk with young people through their struggles and find solutions. I can’t help but think how much we all could benefit from having a personal skills builder. What I’ve gathered from most of the kids I work with is that they, too, just want to know they matter. They, to, just want to be seen and heard. Some have resorted to negative attention seeking because it’s better than being ignored by their parents. We walk by strangers everyday who long to be seen by someone. When you are seen, it triggers feelings someone else acknowledges you exist, and you are important.
I think being seen is more valuable to most people than being heard, while being heard is also of great value. It’s ironic how the very tools we’ve used to be seen in social media, are the very things that are interfering and distracting us from seeing those directly in front of us. We’ve become more concerned by how many people like and comment on a photo or comment than how this interferes with the relationships closest to us. I believe it’s killing us as a society.
A friend on social media posted an open apology the other day for posting so many negative quotes on facebook lately. She promised to only post positive sayings from now on. She struggles openly with depression and feeling alone. I sent her a personal message basically saying, “I don’t think it’s entirely bad that [she] posts negative things, because [she’s] just trying to be honest and vulnerable. This makes some people uncomfortable and they might stop liking what you say or unfollow your newsfeed altogether because vulnerability is scary.” There are also those who do care to know and just don’t know how to respond. I recommended a couple books by Brene Brown and let her know that I just felt she needed to know that she is seen and she is loved.
Sometimes, being seen is all we really need at the moment.
Who are the people in your life today who need to know you see them and are thankful they exist? Maybe it would be worth putting the phone down for a couple of days and see who or what you haven’t seen in a while. Or if social media is the best way for you to stay connected, perhaps you could send a thoughtful message that you are thinking about someone instead of simply liking their photos. My hope for each of us and the future generation is that we wouldn’t become so incredibly lost in ourselves that we stop seeing each other altogether.