So one of the hot facebook threads for my wife and I recently involved an unfortunate case of invisibility and exclusion.
For well over a year my wife has made passing references to how no one “likes” or comments on anything she posts. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of it and thought maybe it was because she didn’t post a lot. But it became apparent that something was wrong in that NO ONE liked or commented on anything she posted for over a year. Just immediate family alone should provide at least ONE “like” right?
So we looked in and turns out privacy settings were set so that pretty much no one would ever see anything my wife posted. Ever. While on one level social media struggles are hardly on the level of world news, this ended up being a big deal – almost like a psychology experiment. Picture it – commenting and liking hundreds of other people’s posts meanwhile getting no response, no feedback whatsoever for your posts. That takes its toll!
Here’s some of the natural pyschological impact of seeing all the interaction of facebook but never being seen:
- Insecurity. The questions of, “Do people not like what I’m posting?” and how that easy goes to “Do people not like me?”
- Defeatest thoughts. At some point my wife just stopped doing updates because it both felt pointless and discouraging to get another experience of not being seen. To her credit – she never stopped responding and engaging others though.
But just to clarify – my wife handled it quite well and never became unglued at her reality. While she lost confidence in her posting, she was secure enough to not let her whole identity come under fire.
What this got me thinking about was just about the nature of responsiveness. We all have those people in our lives that don’t seem to ever call us back or ever respond. Some of us for a variety of reasons routinely fly under the radar and experience invisibility as a big part of their life experience. Most of us can relate to the horror of not being seen or being left in invisibility and irrelevance. Maybe that’s why so many were click to “like” or respond
on the post when we shared what happened.
There seems to be a baseline need for “being seen” for us that brings a security that helps guard us away from the dark psychological reflections of being alone and without value. It’s amazing how a few “likes” eases the existential anxiety most of us are vulnerable to at points.
It doesn’t mean we should live our lives based on the feedback and response we get – but it does give tangible insight into how easy it can be sometimes to show value to other people. It’s finding ways to let them know you “see” them, especially in situations where people are vulnerable to feeling alone or invisible.
This is a simple building block of healthy community – seeking out and showing those who feel alone and rallying around them letting them know you see them and are there for them.
It should not be a surprise to any of us then that God himself in the Scriptures is identified as “the God who sees” at points. What an amazing thing that when we seek Christ, even when we feel invisible and alone that we are never “unseen.”
Responding to people, providing tangible expressions of positive feedback to people’s presence and contribution, is necessary to helping people move past their invisibility angst or trauma. It’s a reminder to me that it’s not good enough to just “not treat people badly.” In the absence of positive response, we all have critical voices because of family issues, or the media, or personal issues that leads us to places of self-hate. It’s probably wise we assume people are living with a strong self-critical voice so that we recognize the opportunity and responsibility we have to counter that voice and replace it with something that communicates value and God forbid….love!
It’s probably worth noting that this is at work in multi-ethnic contexts frequently. Everyone wants to retain ethnic minority leaders, yet how much initiative is taken organizationally to communicate to these leaders, “We see you!” “We value you!” “We want to benefit from your contribution!” From my experience those moments are surprisingly rare – instead majority culture leadership seems to be content with just being polite. I call it the passive and polite approach to leadership, which in reality is just another expression of a lack of responsiveness and a lack of truly acknowledging the presence of some people within the community as a whole. If we’re a majority culture leader it’s worth reflecting from time to time about whether we are unintentionally or passively contributing to the invisibility of some very valuable people.
When I think about where I go wrong and many leadership cultures – it’s assuming that people are thinking truly and accurately about themselves both as you see them and even how God may see them. I forget that others are just as vulnerable to the critical voice and deep feelings of aloneness. I’m thankful for the people in my life that “see” me and help me live in a larger truth than just my own critical voices.
Responsiveness counters invisibility. Lack of responsiveness accelerates the experience of invisibility. I want to be a responsive person and a responsive leader.
How about you?