It’s been a while since I wrote one of those rambling blog posts where I collected seemingly unrelated threads of information and try to weave them into some loose form of coherence, so I figured it must be time to do so again. As I’ve written before, my mind tends to ping pong from one thought to another, creating connections often out of the thinnest of junctions. The title for this post comes from the movie ‘Avatar‘, of course, where among the Navï the term, “I ‘See’ You” goes beyond mere physical vision and encompasses, “I acknowledge you. I honour your presence.”
It’s perhaps fitting that I decamped from home to our local coffee shop to write this blog post, and after dropping off my backpack, etc. I headed to the washroom only to find it was occupied by an elderly gentleman with a wheelchair. I started to back out but he called out for my help instead. His one arm doesn’t work at all and he doesn’t have much strength in his legs, so he was rather stuck as he couldn’t both lift himself and get himself put back together at the same time. I assisted him in getting ordered once again and together we got him back into his chair. I held the door while he made his way out. A Random Act of Kindness? Certainly, but to me it was more about respect, dignity. I ‘See’ You.
That actually pulls on one of the disparate threads I had in mind when starting this post. Victoria, for better or worse, has a lot of street people. Why they’re here, whether or not they should be here and what is and could be done about it are much bigger subjects than can be covered in one post, but in my walks downtown I see them and I also notice how often people walking by try to make them ‘invisible’. Years ago in Toronto I had lunch with a lovely woman named Mary – I wrote about that in the story ‘Yonge Street‘ – and while we were sitting there on the sidewalk eating our submarine sandwiches we were treated to a host of icy stares from passersby. I rarely carry change in my pockets and so don’t often have money to donate to those who are panhandling, but I do take the time to ‘See’ them, to honour their presence, to offer a smile and a few words of greeting. For the most part I receive a smile and a greeting in return.
Another, seemingly unrelated thread to this comes from Steve Sims, who is the founder and CEO of ‘The Bluefish’. On their ‘Fish Food‘ blog he recently wrote about a board meeting he attended, except this one was a bit different than the usual gathering of power suits. He and his 16-year-old son both powered down and surrendered their personal electronics for three days of one on one interaction: practicing yoga, paddleboarding and surfing, among other things. From what he wrote, what was most important to both of them was that they took the time to say, “I ‘See’ You”. In reading his post I thought about the number of times children who are at baseball games, gymnastics, ballet class, music recitals and the like perform some new and amazing feat and look up to catch their parent(s)’ approval and what they see instead is a forehead staring down at a screen. John Prine has a song (Sam Stone) about an army veteran who becomes addicted to the morphine that he was given following his battle injury. One line in the song reveals, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…” It seems to me that a much bigger addiction faced by many in our society today is to their phones and tablets. The biggest commodity in the world today is not oil, gold or even water, it’s information. Companies are doing their best to control it, aggregate it and sell it and consumers are buying into it wholeheartedly. Whether it’s a quest for relevance, for connection, an attempt to communicate when we forget how to ‘See’ each other, I’m not sure. For some, going TWO WHOLE MINUTES without checking in can be tortuous. Marcia and I both have cell phones and we both have computers, but when we’re together our focus is on each other. Some people are amazed that 2-year-olds today can unlock a phone and run their own apps. This doesn’t surprise me at all because from the moment these children were born they began to learn that the one thing in the world more important than them is this little flat rectangle that delivers some sort of magic if you stare at it long enough. Of course they’d want to be a part of it!
At the same time, we live fairly close to Beacon Hill Park and the park has two playgrounds. Every time I walk there I’m pleased to watch siblings, parents and grandparents pushing little ones on swings, climbing up monkey bars and running around playing tag. They’re teaching their children, “I ‘See’ You”. There may be hope for us yet!
For the next threads in this weaving, two thoughts from two different people. Tom Brown Jr. runs Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature Awareness and Wilderness Survival School, and one of Tom’s riffs is about names. I still remember when I was studying dendrology (tree identification) in school, and for the first time I could look at and separate white birch, yellow birch, eastern hemlock, alternate dogwood and a host of others. It lifted them out of the realm of being just another tree or bush and gave them each an identity. Names are a double-edged sword, however, and knowing the name of something doesn’t reveal much of anything about it. For the most part names are just labels that we stick on things so we know what to say when we point at them – cloud, cup, dog, sign, Mike… Tom’s riff is that when we learn the name of something we can fool ourselves into thinking we know it, when really all we know is the label. Looked at from another perspective, in an interview a few years ago Thomas Hübl said that if someone knocks on your door and you answer it, immediately you begin to think, “I know this person. I know who this is.” Consciously or subconsciously we begin to add attributes to the name/label we have stored in our memories, but as Thomas said, when we do that we immediately begin to draw a box around who we believe this person to be rather than giving them the opportunity to express who they are today. Now. We see them, but we don’t often allow ourselves to ‘See’ them.
Finally, there’s one relationship each of us have that is the most central, the most private relationship each of us CAN have – the relationship with ourselves. As much as we add attributes to those in our acquaintance, we do the same and more to ourselves. When was the last time you took even a couple of minutes to stand in front of a mirror and say to that person, “I ‘See’ You.”?