To See and Be Seen

mirror6:30 Tuesday morning. It’s dark out. Slowly, our neighborhood starts to come to life: lights go on, teeth being brushed and so it goes. I take the mascot on her walk and as we make our way through the park, we run into Bobby and Alex. As usual, Peaches greets them with exuberance, her tail wagging as if this is the best day ever – just like yesterday was the best day ever, and the day before that, and the one before that. We talk as we often do: it’s warm and humid today, the magnolias are blooming, how are you doing stuff. Alex is excited, he has news. He got a new job and he starts Monday! The guys are giddy as they start talking about the future and how they might move to a new place. Just typical neighborly small talk, right? Yes, except that Bobby and Alex are homeless.

Getting to know these guys has taught me a lot about being open to people who seem very different to me. Sure, before we met there was Will who came before them and was the first homeless person I ever got to know even a little. He camped below the sequoia trees writing poetry and singing songs for 2 months until one day he just wasn’t there any more. I sometimes wonder where he went but I don’t look for him. It’s not my job to try and fix them or their situation. I don’t give them money or things, for the most part. I do try, even for a brief moment, to see them on their own terms, to be real with them and not pretend they don’t exist.

Deep down, no matter our circumstances, we all want more or less the same thing: to feel a sense of connection and belonging. How is it that I’ve gotten to know any of these guys in my neighborhood? To be fair, it all started with the mascot. She’s like a WalMart greeter and says hello to just about everyone she sees. By watching her, I learned to drop some of my own baggage and be open to the people around me.

I work with groups all the time who are trying to get work done more easily, to gain consensus, spend less time in meetings. A lot of that comes down to connection. Being seen. Feeling understood and accepted for our differences.

How can you build connection?  Try slowing down even for a moment. Open up your posture and allow your arms and legs to hang relaxed at your side. Breathe fully to send enough oxygen to your brain to allow for listening.  I mean really listening. You know, the kind that might even have eye contact and everything instead of the half-assed way most of us do it while we juggle our smart phone and to-do list and pretend to hold a conversation at the same time. Put your devices away. Inquire. Ask questions that show you have interest in what the person has to say.  It’s not hard. It’s more a giving of time really, even if it’s just a minute.

The month’s challenge: Think about someone at work you tend to avoid. Try slowing down for a moment to acknowledge them even if it’s just saying hello or to hold the door for them. Breathe. Maybe ask them about their day and stop talking long enough to hear what they have to say. Check it out and share your results.


-What are the opportunities for you to seek connection with someone you’ve been avoiding?

-What do you notice when you slow down and breathe as you interact with someone you either don’t know well or perhaps don’t get along with?

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