In the movie “Avatar,” the Na’vi greeted one another with the phrase, “I see you.” To the Na'vi, the meaning of this phrase is closer to “I understand you” or “I comprehend you.” It means you open your heart and mind to the other person, as though you were seeing them for the very first time. It is an acknowledgment that there is something worth noticing and appreciating in everyone we meet.
Watch the faces of the two characters in this scene, and the intensity with which they say, "I see you."
How many of us "see" one another so purposely, so deeply, so clearly?
Near the end of a school year, a principal at a private high school was upset that students were not following the dress code. One morning, he decided to make a public example of the first student he saw who was not dressed appropriately. Minutes later, he encountered a boy in the hall with no jacket or tie, and a wrinkled shirt.
What do you think happened next?
A high school librarian noticed a student she had not seen before, looking with great interest at a shelf of books. As she approached to engage him, she saw him take a book off the shelf and hide it in his jacket, and leave the library.
How did the librarian react?
In the movie Seabiscuit, horse owner Charles Howard and trainer Tom Smith purchase Seabiscuit, a slow, temperamental, undersized racehorse, and train him to run much faster.They hire a young jockey named Red Pollard and devise a strategy to win the horse's next race.However, a jockey on another horse purposely bumps hard into Seabiscuit, and Pollard spends the rest of the race trying to retaliate, rather than trying to win.Afterwards, the owner and trainer confronted Pollard.
Sometimes when we witness a person’s behavior, we can only see the obvious. We can’t look below the surface to find out what is driving that behavior.
As you may have surmised, the school principal came down hard on the student:
“Give me one good reason you can’t follow the dress code,” the Principal shouted. The student was upset and tried to explain, but the Principal cut off any response.
Dozens of other students shook their heads in dismay and sulked off. The Principal finally sensed something was amiss, and brought the student into his office. There, he learned that the student and his family had fled their burning home after midnight, and the outfit he was wearing was the best one he could borrow from his cousin. '
This a dramatic example of what can happen when we fail to clearly see other people. We end up addressing them on one level, with poor results, when meeting them on another level is far more likely to lead to an amicable outcome.
How did the librarian react to the student's theft?
This story happened in Arkansas in the 1950s. The student was Olly Neal, an African-American who had cut class. He was killing time in the library when he came across a book by Frank Yerby that piqued his interest. But if he checked it out, the student at the desk may let his friends know that he was reading books, damaging his "street cred." So he stole the book.
When Neal finished the book, he brought it back to the library to replace it on the shelf. "And when I put it back, there was another book by Frank Yerby," Neal said. "So I thought, 'Maybe I'll read that, too.' So I took it under my jacket," Neal said. "Later, I brought it back, and there was — by God, there was another book by Frank Yerby. So I took it."
Neal read four of Yerby's books that semester, "stealing" and returning each one.
Neal met the librarian, Mildred Grady, at a school reunion, and she told him that she had seen him take the first book, so she then drove all the way to Memphis, Tennessee to find more books by the same author so Neal could steal those as well. The result? Neal graduated from law school and later retired as an appellate judge of the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Is it fair to say that Mildred Grady changed Judge Neal's destiny by the way she chose to see him that day?
What did Seabiscuit's owner say to the angry, out-of-control jockey? Watch.
Howard saw that Pollard was upset about something much bigger than the actions of another jockey, so he asked about it. This helped Red realize he was angry because his family abandoned him as a teenager, during the Great Depression. He dealt with that anger and overcame it, and together Howard, Smith, Pollard and Seabiscuit made history.
Seeing Clearly is an exercise that will enable you and your classmates to see each other without saying a word. It’s intense and uncomfortable, but like the previous exercise, it builds empathy and understanding by enabling us to see each other clearly.
Everyone finds a partner, ideally someone they do not know well.
Partners sit facing one another, knee to knee, on the floor or in chairs.
When the facilitator says, “Go,” the parties stare directly into each other’s eyes for 90 seconds (or longer if you dare!). No one says a word!
After 90 seconds, each partner looks at the other and says their name, and “You Matter.”
Switch partners and do it all again.
After three rounds, bring the whole group back together for reflection.
Ask participants to respond out loud:
What was the experience like for you?
Were the second and third rounds easier or harder?
Will this exercise change the way you see others?
A half century ago, a young man wrote a song that you’ve likely heard and sung, many times. Now, we invite you to watch and listen to a haunting cover of the song, and to hear it again for the very first time:
What is the meaning of this song to you now?
One of the lines in the song is “The Sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.” What is the meaning of this?
Who in your life are the “prophets” whose words are not seen by others?
This post is an excerpt from my "Choose2Matter" course, which fosters passion-based, compassion-driven, authentic learning. It changes the goal of Genius Hour, Student Advisory, and Capstone Projects from creating a year-end presentation to developing a lifelong calling. Click here to learn more and contact me with any questions!
Bonus: For yet another wonderful example of people seeing each other clearly, or “humanity at it should be, as most of us wish it would be,” watch this segment from our favorite TV series, On The Road With Steve Hartman.