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When We Look, Do We See?

In a book about communication, the author (Thomas Kirkpatrick) says, "Hearing is what we do with our ears, while listening is what we do between our ears." Get it? We can be in a crowded store or restaurant and hear many sounds, even human voices... but we may not be listening at all. Only if the person next to us or across the table from us addresses us directly will we begin to engage our brains and start listening.

Pretty much the same with looking and seeing, isn't it? We can look at this picture and not really see everything in it. Maybe we focus on the hands. Perhaps our eyes are drawn down the road. If we sit with it for a few seconds, we might believe we see speed. So it is with others of our kind. Facing a person across the table from us during a meal or a meeting, when we look, do we see?

What we glean when we look could be all lumped together as data. What's fairly visible is information like gender, hair color, size, wrinkles, glasses. Data. It's pretty easy to look for what's most evident. But will we see beyond the data to the real live human being before us? Can we see warmth or openness or anxiety or anger? Might we even see the vast complexity of a unique being, singular in history, who sits in our line of sight with an internal universe of thoughts and experiences to be explored? We look but will we see?

A former poet laureate of South Carolina spoke to a small group of writers when I was in high school. He offered interesting counsel: don't ever not look at a handicapped person. That was back when that word was acceptable. But it's the double negative in his assertion that's most unnerving. Don't turn away. Don't avoid. Don't divert your attention. Go ahead. Look. And better yet, see.

We are all traveling through life on this planet with some impairment, some brokenness, some woundedness. Some people don't have the camouflage options others do. The data is visible. Most of the rest of us are artists of disguise. Yet every now and then we meet someone who not only looks but also sees. Peels back the cover-up. Doesn't turn away or avoid. Marvels. Affirms. And that's when we know we've been seen through the eyes of love.

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