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The Value of Being Seen

Hello loves! I hope y'all have been having a good week so far!

It's been a rainy couple of days where I am, and that always makes me want to do nothing more than stay in bed with a warm drink and my dogs (Yes I know how basic that sounds).

In all seriousness, the rainy weather can put a bit of a pause on life. Traffic moves (somehow) slower than usual, people linger inside their offices before sprinting to their cars while others never left home to begin with.

And it's in that slowed-down space that I started to notice something happening.

A person looking so touched at the door being held open for them by someone else. A mood-changing almost immediately at a bright, genuine 'good morning' from a stranger. The almost eager way two people who don't know each other engaged in small talk about the weather.

In each small interaction, people first seemed surprised to be acknowledged, then grateful. Like they didn't expect anyone to notice them anymore.

It reminded me of one of the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, the one where Jamie Foxx plays the villainous Electro. Full disclosure I think about that movie a lot (and it's not just because of Andrew Garfield). In one of the first scenes, Spider-Man saves Jamie Foxx's character, who goes on to become obsessed with Spider-Man before shenanigans happen and he turns evil and becomes an electricity monster.

You know, normal stuff like that.

Anyways, the thing that always stuck with me about that scene-- and really, the entire movie- was the interaction between the two characters. Spider-Man addresses Jamie Foxx's character by his name because it was on his name tag, which surprises the character who explains that he's a nobody. Without hesitating, Spider-man says "You're not a nobody, you're a somebody" followed by the classic inspirational hero monologue before he rushes off to save the city.

If you've seen the movie, then you probably remember how significant that interaction was for Jamie Foxx's character. And it's not surprising to us the audience, as we had seen the build-up to that scene (and honestly every scene after) show this man get ignored by literally everyone around him. You can't not feel bad for him, especially when the catalyst for his villain arc is the ultimate act of being treated like he's unimportant by others. When he's "defeated", it doesn't really feel like a victory, and both the audience and Spider-Man are left wondering what could have happened if only someone had shown this man that he mattered.

That he was a somebody.

I say all this not to justify any plans on becoming an electric blue supervillain, but to point out the most tragic and honestly relatable part of his character.

The desire to be seen.

Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to know that they matter to someone else, that the world would notice if they were gone, and that they have someone or a group of someones they can look at and call Home.

So why does it seem like more and more people don't have that? Why do so many people today feel alone and unseen?

I'm sure there's a lot of reasons. The usual suspects come to mind: the social distancing pandemic, the entitled Main Character Syndrome, the hustle culture lifestyle, 'those dang phones' and social media, and probably more that we've all heard and discussed at length.

I'm sure it's a combination of all these things, like if 1 + 1 =2 then physical isolation + rude 'It's All About Me' behavior = Loneliness. It's not a shock.

Life is different now, compared to how it used to be, and I think it's important to acknowledge that. Tons of jobs are hybrid, schools fall back on E-learning days still, and pretty much everything under the sun can be ordered through Bezos's brainchild. People prefer their digital world over reality even though we know people don't act the same way online as they do in real life. (Like seriously, half of the users displaying toxic online behavior and leaving cyberbullying comments would never say them for real to someone's face).

I'm not saying all this to be doom and gloom, technology is evil, blah blah blah. But I am pointing this out to encourage us all to be more intentional in our interactions, not just with family and friends, but with everyone.

If you've ever hung around me in real life, I'm sure you've heard me describe using social media/the Internet as "screaming into the Void". While it's a silly phrase, I think it's one of the better ways to describe what it's like to use the digital space as a means of socialization. Going on a digital platform is like staring into a dark vast nothingness. Sometimes, you stare hard enough, maybe throw a post out into the ether, and see galaxies of stars, positive comments, and online friends.

And then sometimes you reach out into the void and something dark and nasty and hateful lashes back.

Maybe, perhaps worse of all, is when you fling something into the Void with all your might and nothing happens. Not even a mean word. It was like you didn't make an impact, like you didn't matter or even exist at all.

And if you get the online praise and your phone is pinging 24/7 from 'friends' but you never actually speak in person or over the phone, how fulfilling is it really?

In the digital sphere, you can have influence. You can build a platform, goodness, you can even make you yourself into a brand.

But does anyone actually feel connected to a brand?

(Would you call Target one of your friends? Probably not.)

It is possible to meet new people online, but if it never goes beyond texts and dms, like you never even FaceTime, how well do you know that person? How well do they know you?

I'll be the first to say I love the Internet and I love the groups I've found. I would say there are people who I call my 'online friends', but I also have friends I see face to face and talk to in rea life. And there's a difference.

A "digital community" is not a real community. It can be a jumping-off point, but if it never leaves the screen space, it's not going to benefit you in the same way a flesh-and-blood, physically existing community can. A lot of people disagree, and to each their own opinion, but it's hard to deny the facts: If the reliance on digital spaces isn't creating an isolation and loneliness problem, then why do so many people go about their day feeling like Electro?

So, the reason I bring all this up?

I want to encourage you (and myself) to be Spider-Man.

Be the one to start making the in-real-life connections. You don't have to be blood brothers with everyone you come across, obviously, but try to take the first step of acknowledging someone else.

They can be the person you always see at your workout class, the barista at your favorite coffee shop, maybe someone even more close, like the janitor at your office who's been there forever but you've never actually spoken to.

You're not obligated to be besties with every person you come across. And you certainly should never ignore your own boundaries (stranger danger exists for a reason after all). But it doesn't take much to tell someone 'good morning' while actually looking at them instead of your screen. To ask a person how their day is going and not just following the 'good, how are you?' 'I'm good, how are you?' 'good.' script that's always said in that voice.

It doesn't have to be a big, Spider-Man saving the day type of action. It can be small, it can be something so simple that you might not even remember it later.

But as shown in the movie, that brief interaction that Spider-Man forgot about completely shifted the other character's life.

We've all heard it said that 'you don't know what someone else is going through', though the phrase is usually applied when people are being unnecessarily rude and mean. But I think it's not too far off to guess that something that almost everyone is going through is the feeling of loneliness, of being unseen and unvalued in the world.

If you've ever felt that, I want you to know that you are valued. You are seen. And you are so so loved.

And when the rain stops, when life launches back into its busy in-and-out pace, still put in the effort to slow it down just enough to acknowledge the people around you. To let them know they are seen and that they matter.

Love y'all

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." -Hebrews 10:24-25

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