Monday 25 June 2018

The Importance of Being Seen

Posted by Simon Thomas
Of all our innermost human desires, nothing seems to trump that of being seen. Humanity is meant for community and for togetherness. There is something very fundamental about being acknowledged, of being seen, as a person.
The Internet with all its wonders and the ability to connect people from all over the world, does indeed meet some of this need, but virtual reality does not on any level substitute real human interaction on a personal level. It does, however, point out the fact there that there is a real need for it. A person can have untold ‘friends’ or followers on social media, but this does not replace real human conversation. And we are sick because of it.

Everyone needs to know that what they say, or the very fact of their being is important to somebody. The heart longs for a human embrace, for the attentive ear of another, who shows some interest in being with them and listening to what they say. Psychological research has shown that when people are perpetually in a situation where they are ignored, this causes real emotional pain, and that in turn will cause physical problems caused by the stress of being ignored on a ongoing basis.

This is all the more prevalent in our society of individualism. Everyone wants to connect, but there seems to be this incessant preoccupation with connecting with everything and everyone except that which is in our present reality. It is true, a person can feel lonely in crowd, and feel intense feelings of abandonment even in the company of others. This is especially true in our society with its preoccupation with distraction.

Things become more important than people, virtual friendships on-line become more important than friendships we can experience in real time and in real situations. We see, but we don’t see each other. We put each other in categories, and fail to recognise how much we are the same, with the same need for communicating and the real need for simply communicating with those who share our time and space.

Families today, too, have gone this route. People live under the same roof but do not communicate; there is no or very little interaction. The whole emphasis has shifted form ‘how can I serve’ to ‘how can I get something out of this person’.

I have this kind of relationship with my dog. It comes to me when it is hungry or wants something from me. And that is okay. Animals do not have the complex relationship needs that human beings have. But my dog has what I call ‘cupboard love’ -- he loves me for what he can get from me. But that is not to be the way we interact with our fellow human beings. It is the height of selfishness. And very often the cause of much emotional and mental anguish.

I have noticed however, that that is how the Internet of things works. Someone has something on offer, which the other wants, and what happens is that while felt needs are met on a superficial level, there is not a lasting connection. And it is understandable that people want the connection, but they don’t want to acknowledge the person they interact with. We come across many people in our daily lives, in the office, at the bus station, in the shops, at church. But as many can testify, even after we exit a party or a group of people we feel drained.

It is important to listen to one another. Even a brief interaction can be meaningful if the person we talk to makes us feel that we have been seen, that we have been acknowledged. It is not uncommon to go through a day and while we do many things in the course our day’s activities, we are left empty. What is that? Well I perceive that the reason we fail to connect is that we seem to objectify people and treat them as less than they are.

Human beings are made imago dei -- in the image of God. We were created to interact and communicate; we were made to live in community and not in isolation. To be human is to share in the common human experience, and to live in such a way that we acknowledge one another, and not allow our many distractions to detract from how we relate to one another.


Keith said...

The main thread in this interesting essay deftly develops the importance of relationships, connections, and communities. However, this sentence, which opens the last paragraph, struck me: ‘Human beings are made imago dei — in the image of God.’ The statement caught my attention for both its content and its possibly unobvious connection with the essay’s key thread. I’ve always found the concept ‘in the image of God’ a minefield. Just how allegorically (vice literally) is it ever meant to be? Even in the theological context of a god manifesting itself — self-actualization — through the unique qualities granted humankind — as well as in the context of humankind’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature, mirroring a god’s ‘divinity’ — the phrase’s linkage to the larger theme here is unclear. Well, unclear to me, anyway. One evident risk of the phrase 'imago dei' seems in its overly anthropomorphizing a god’s image. Certainly, I see the allure of resorting to the rhetorical device: anthropomorphizing is a tempting shortcut in attributing graspable qualities to a god. And, in so doing, makes it easier for the inner mind’s eye to frame a god’s image — reciprocally in one’s own image.

But anthropomorphizing skirts the hard work; it’s arguably easier than conceiving a god that may be entirely different. Even defiantly, inconceivably different. For example, might any such god, instead, be an abstract, nonrepresentational elementally animating force, such that its character defies the mind’s eye? A god that, however impressively imbued with powers, is one that resists definition and in its abstraction isn’t as comforting to human beings, who want to believe, perhaps improvidently, in human exceptionalism? And a species that wants to believe, also perhaps improvidently, in a universe — and a god — that’s not indifferent to its fate? Those are thorny enough notions in themselves. But I bring all this up also in part because the follow-on sentence then segues with this thought: ‘We were created to interact and communicate; we were made to live in community and not in isolation.’ That may or may not be true — though, at least to some degree, anthropology and history suggest it likely is. Either way, I found the leap from ‘human beings are made imago dei’ to the thought captured by the follow-on sentence — where terms like ‘interact’ and ‘community’ appear — a bit puzzling to me and unobvious. I’m curious how that leap — that putative connection — might be teased out of the essay’s otherwise interesting and informative discussion.

Martin Cohen said...

Thank you Simon, for this very relevant essay. Indeed, there is currently a debate in the UK about the degrading of intimate relationships due to the psychological overflow, as it were, from virtual ones. From exposrue not only to things like pornography but reality television like 'Love Island', and the idealised world of celebrity generally. So yes, I agree with you that this is corrupting of personal relationships... which are devalued in a sense. But also, I remember reading about the preference of customers in banks for interaction with machines rather than bank tellers. Alas, the same is true with personal relationships - the fake ones are easier and less stressful than the real ones!

This site, let us reflect, exists primarily to enable some genuine interaction, supposedly philosophical, but I think 'thoughtful' would be a better aim. Its success or otherwise is itself a kind of 'barometer' for our sociable nature!

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

There would be a theological argument surrounding 'imago dei', with various possibilities as to what it is.

A common interpretation is that it represents 'personality' as opposed to any reduction of the same. The philosopher Cyril Joad wrote about 'the personality' vs. space and time, while the philosopher-theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote about about personality vs. 'devilish din'. Both were referring to deity.

Thus the concept is well understood, and broadly understood. How would one replace it?

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