Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unseen Others

When I was in grad school, I was introduced to the concept of “unseen others” by one of my professors.  According my professor’s theory, we all have them.  They are the people in the world that we choose not to see because our reaction to them makes us uncomfortable.   

I would like you to take a moment and consider who your unseen others are.   Is it someone of a different religion, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or socioeconomic status? Perhaps it is someone of a specific profession, age bracket, range of ability, or political belief? Or maybe there are certain appearances, interests, or personality traits that come to your mind.

Regardless of who these unseen others are or what it is about them that makes us uncomfortable, we all seem to have such reactions to a certain group of people.  Most often, we avoid our unseen others because we are uncertain of how to relate to them, or we have made assumptions, passed judgments, or developed biases or prejudices against the type of person we believe them to be. 

I find this to be such an interesting phenomenon.  How curious it is that we have a hard time seeing people as real simply because they are different from us.  How unfortunate it is that we short change people because we have unfairly made up our minds about them.  What a disservice it is to everyone when we cannot look deeper into one another simply because we are unsure of how to relate to who we think they are.  And isn’t it interesting that we tend to validate certain people based on their likeness to our own self-image? 

If you have been able to identify your unseen others, I challenge you to consider what it is about you and them that makes them so difficult for you to see.  Invite your unseen others to hold up a mirror to you, and take a long look at yourself in the reflection that you see.  Ask yourself questions about what you see.  Too, ask yourself if you are willing to challenge your beliefs about yourself and the people around you.  Are you willing to learn from someone that you have always thought has nothing to teach you? Are you willing to allow them to touch you? Are you willing to reach out and touch them? Are you willing to venture out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons?

Although it can be difficult to deconstruct our personal biases, it is rather easy to approach people with curiosity, rather than judgment. To be kind, respectful, and accepting.   It may be easier than we think to have a positive influence and be positively influenced ourselves, even when we least suspect.  Just think about a time when you were surprised by someone.  How good it feels to be treated as a whole person worthy of understanding and acceptance.

Take a moment today and think about what a wonderful thing it is see the goodness in one another.  See that we are so much more connected by our similarities, our vulnerabilities, and our very human nature than we realize.  Celebrate and embrace our differences as a source of richness, rather than a point of division.  Give all people a chance, no matter who or what we assume them to be.


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