We are recently, as a society, obsessed with being noticed. It can create some serious cross currents in our lives as we seek to “fit in” and “stand out”’ at the same time. It is a delicate balance. It is also a symptom of living in a thoroughly individualistic society.
In many parts of the world being noticed or being seen is not a good thing. In some places it can get you arrested or worse. This is not the case here. I have three thoughts about being seen I would like to share.
First, social media is full of memes and posts that are pleas to be noticed and appreciated. For those that remember what life was like before social media (like me), they seem a little strange. I can only imagine what my grandfather’s generation would have thought.
There is also something rather self-indulgent about making a choice and then proceeding to tell anyone who will listen how challenging that choice has made one’s life. I understand that many things turn out to be much more difficult that imagined.
I also understand that maybe an older generation failed to communicate the challenges of balancing home ownership, a job, children, civic and religious duties, hobbies, school, caring for family members, and keeping up with nearly daily unexpected interruptions. It may also be a failure to “count the cost” before jumping.
Here is a truth. Everyone has a “mental load.” Everyone has (at some phases of life) constant emotional drains. Everyone has baggage. Everyone has difficulties to overcome. We all know that these challenges and deficits are not distributed equally or fairly. It is also a truth that most of us want to be appreciated for what we do and that can be difficult in a world where everyone else feels underappreciated. It is a true blessing to be able to navigate life without needing constant affirmation and praise for doing the minimum required.
Is it not perhaps better to focus on what one is trying to accomplish and recognize that life will provide for us the stress and resistance necessary to help us feel accomplished? There is nothing like doing something “in spite of” an obstacle. Try less to be seen dealing with common trials and more for overcoming. That is how we encourage others to exceed expectations. Seek solutions, not excuses.
Second, there are those who seek to be seen through doing or saying shocking things. This is a phase for some as they pass through adolescence into adulthood. Others get stuck. This method of “being seen” is summed up paradoxically by the moral philosopher Eric Hoffer, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” It is also seen in groups who champion “diversity” only by external measures rather than diversity of thought. Then there are those who imitate by doing the opposite of what is expected or considered respectable.
I do not want to sound harsh or uncaring about this. It is a real craving that we have to be seen and to be known. There is value in being appreciated for doing the right things over and over, every day, without complaint. The problem is that we live in a world where excelling or simply being noticed brings with it consequences that can make things worse.
Social media attracts comments (unless one carefully cultivates contacts) and attitudes that are hurtful. It usually flattens us out as complex human beings as most of us only show the beautiful side of our lives or hammer away at our pain. Acting out for attention can carry with it real social and health issues that can haunt us for life.
There is another way to answer the question, “Can you see me?” It is to be part of a loving and caring community of people. These communities can be found through volunteer organizations, interest groups, societies, and of course, churches and synagogues. They can be hard for some to approach. It can be hard to find the time or make the commitment. They are, however, worth the trouble. They are places where, if one will participate, we can be seen and appreciated.
The recognition will come sporadically and often quietly from one person to another. It will come in gestures, cards, or gifts. The seeing flows both ways. Once we are seen it becomes easier to see and appreciate others. We are not built to get through this life alone. We are not built to live in front of a screen. We are built to be part of groups and tribes that have common causes. They give us the strength serve and the humility to be served.