In some of the class time we shared on the Ecuador trip, we discussed how to make connections with the people we would be visiting, and reviewed how successful we were afterward. It was easy to see that while there was not just one right approach to visits, there were many common themes. Smiles, eye contact, real attention given to a person, sometimes touch, sometimes silliness, sometimes music.
We talked about the fact that we were basically visiting captive audiences. People in hospitals and addiction centers and prisons couldn't easily get away from our visits, but most were eager to receive them and engage with us. This led to conversations about their having few visitors, that many of these people were 'put away' somewhere out of sight from the larger population - that they were, in many ways, invisible people. And hungry to be seen.
And this led to a deeper conversation that hits right at the heart of how we live our lives every day. How many invisible people do we pass every day? How often do we skim over a face, avoid eye contact, or even a glance from people we meet in the course of our daily routine? The socially acceptable 'How are you? Fine, you?' that passes for interaction shortchanges all of us. Who has gone through an entire day with nothing more than pleasantries? How many people out there - and maybe it's you! - are living lives that look fine on the surface, but are screaming on the inside for lack of being seen and heard for the person they really are.
The fact is, humans are meant to live and thrive in community. Our tribal origins kept us alive - people separated from the group were less likely to survive. Our world of increasing on-line connection often comes at the cost of decreasing personal connection. We are so wrapped up in our own stories, we don't stop to listen to another's. We want so strongly to be independent, we forget (or are embarrassed) to ask for help when we need it.
We can change this! And it isn't difficult! The common themes work. Smiles, eye contact, real attention - some touch, silliness, music. See what happens if you actually look everyone you meet today in the eye - the co-worker in the hall, the bank teller, the grocery clerk, your partner. SEE them and let them see you.