Thursday, November 7, 2013

To Be Seen

Once I read a story about Marilyn Monroe. The interviewer was out with her and marveling that no one around them seemed to recognize them. Marilyn said the equivalent to "Watch this" - left on her sunglasses, took off her scarf, straightened her shoulders and became Marilyn. Within bare seconds, everyone on the street recognized her and they were mobbed.

Hiding in plain sight. It's a skill. And Marilyn had it mastered both ways.
AMAZING poster by Alexandra Franzen and Kent Youngstrom. 
Get your own copy (or another of their 2013 
collaborative projects) by 
following this link to Kent Youndstrom's site.

To be seen. To be understood. To be loved. I think we all hunger for these things. When I watch people interact, that's what I see most often - the burning desire to be seen as who you really are and accepted for that. I watch people do the emotional equivalent of shouting, trying to be seen by the people who matter to them.

Think for a moment of how infrequently we truly offer that generosity of heart. To allow people to be themselves without categorizing or boxing them into stereotypes. To see people.

I know I feel that way - boxed in by what people think they know - with some degree of regularity. It especially painful when it's from people, usually family, who "should" get us. 

For me it hurts most when I'm offering the gift of my time and expertise to someone who requested aid and then ignores my offering. It's happened two times with one family member - and I'll never offer him professional help again. He's proven he'll learn on his own schedule. So, now I need to learn how to let him succeed or fail without trying to be a net. 

A lesser hurt  - but one that's been consistent for over 15 years  - is having my professional life belittled by family as several aunts consistently do. (When I was a focus group moderator and my main client was a global appliance maker, my aunt described my job as "selling Tupperware". Which is an indicator of the level of respect she gives any of my accomplishments.) I worked hard to earn my professional stripes - mostly because it's the best way I know how to take care of the people I love and seems to be the most effective use of my skills. However, I stopped speaking of my work long ago to my family. To the point that one family member, who actually aspires to do exactly what I do, doesn't know I do it.

It hurts when instead of accepting my beliefs are simply different than theirs, that the same family push me to justify what I think - when I've never asked them to justify any belief or action they have. It makes me feel invisible. 

 Another form of invisibility when elder family lump my thoughts and actions with others in the family based on family generation, people with whom I have nothing in common except a bit of blood - we grew up in different generations thanks to a 10+ year age difference; we had vastly different socio-economic circumstance as children, and were raised in different faiths. I have more in common with strangers than them.

What to do with the hurt? Learn. Become better at seeing others. Give others more understanding. Am I perfect at that? No, but I practice. And each time I face the challenge of familial invisibility, I remember that I decide what boundaries to set. (The book, Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend, helped me find my family voice. Still working on being gracious about it. Gracious is my next personal growth goal.)

Take-away - Today, just today, look at someone you know with new eyes. Really see them. And then let them know that you accept them/understand and - most importantly - that you love them.


  1. Thank you, Alexandria. This is a solid piece of advice. I like the way you soldier on regardless of how others feel about what you do. That defines you so much more than anything you could do.

    Judgment says nothing of the judged.

    1. Oh - I'm far from perfect and know it! And I'm just as guilty as others of judging - I just rarely make people justify.

      And have I told you lately how honored I am that you read these?


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