Love and Being Seen

Today is Valentine’s Day. Don’t spend any money on this. Just commit to showing love.

What is love?

The Hallmark kind:

Valentine’s Day — especially the commercial kind that is trying to get you to buy surge-priced flowers and chocolate and jewelry — focuses on men buying for women or vice versa. There are rare advertisements when a woman is shown romantically purchasing for another woman, or a man for a man.

We all know that is not all there is to love. Not all love is about coupling-up for the rest of your life. Almost no love lives happily ever after with no bumps along the road. Few live side-by-side with burning lust, every day.

The Norman Rockwell-TV Sitcom kind:

Norman Rockwell family loveThis type of love – the love that spreads among family members, neighbors, friends, and colleagues — is a true love. It is a love based on noticing one another, mutual experience, and a natural exchange of effort that grows over time.

When I think of everyday love, my society-emblazoned images are more nuanced than two people staring lovingly at one another. They tend towards images like those created by Norman Rockwell. His illustrations were often scenes where people were being loving. People are doing everyday things, and others are noticing. His art is loving in the detail he notices about those doing everyday activity. In his illustrations, love includes not simply couples, but all the people in the room.

Television is full of this kind of love, too. Just look at comedies about family situations and those about groups of friends. Love is shown through actions. Many of those actions wouldn’t make it onto a Valentine’s Day card, but they are actions of love. Characters who are not in couples almost never say “I love you.” Yet episode after episode, characters show up for one another; they listen, they do small kindnesses, they mess up and apologize.

What is love? Love is paying attention to people. Love is taking people seriously. Love is noticing what others might need. Love is taking the effort to see one another.

Visibility is love

In order to do all those loving things that you see done on sitcoms, the characters need to see one another. It’s not always a visual seeing; it’s more about noticing.

The internal knowledge we carry about life tells us that if no one see us, we are vulnerable. The danger of not being seen has been compounded in the past two years because of social isolation. Not being seen is a dangerous state to be in. It is now, and even more so, back in our human past.

Feeling seen by others is a basic human need. Its basis is evolutionary: If your tribe didn’t see you, there was a risk you’d be left behind when the nomadic life of early humans dictated they move, and being alone equated to death. If other tribes didn’t see and respect you and your tribe, they were likely to invade your territory, take your resources, and leave you and your family to die. [source]

Being really seen.

When you are really seen by another person, it feels good. Really good. I am not talking about someone who says they like your shirt. (They see a shirt. They like it). I am talking about someone who gets your style in shirts and appreciates you and your choices.

When you are really seen, the person viewing you has made the effort to get you. When you notice that someone gets you, you feel safe with them. In a time when people are generally not feeling safe, being seen is all-the-more important.

Not being seen

The “great resignation” is a term being used for people who are not returning to the workforce after resigning or losing their jobs since March 2020. I think this may be a rebellion against invisibility, made worse by low pay.

faceless means invisible

Working with the public not only exposes workers to Covid virus; it exposes people to spending their days being invisible. Workers who see hundreds of people a day will tell you: They get little or no eye contact. They get the rare smile. They get superficial civility and occasional rudeness. People in certain roles spend their days not as a person, but as a role (cashiers, bus drivers, delivery people, police, food servers, doctors and nurses).

This only changes when relationships form. Shoppers can go through the checkout with the same cashier twice a month and never notice the person: why? What is the difference between how a consumer sees “their doctor” or “a doctor” at a minute clinic or ER? Answer: seeing people, not roles.

Some workers who are not public-facing also feel invisible. Good supervision can fix that. Supervisors or employers will have happier staff if they remember what is important to their workers; they need to see them as more than producers of work product. That may not get to love, but it is the stepping stone to love: respect for the humanness of the next person.

Valentine’s Day Challenge:

I encourage you to do one of these things, every day, for the next thirty days. After thirty days, you have a habit that you can keep that spreads love (or at least respect) everywhere you go. It only takes a minute.

  • Check in by phone, email, or text with someone you really like, who you haven’t seen or heard from since January 1, 2022.
  • If you remember something about someone, send them a text, email, or call them to let them know what you remember.
  • If there is something in your house that you love that was a gift, text, email, or call the giver to tell them that you are still enjoying it.
  • Notice a worker where you shop or visit regularly. Say hello and smile.





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