Seeing Invisible People
I once heard a true story of a professor in a nursing program who gave a final exam with this last question: What is the name of the lady custodian who cleans this building?
When the students got to that question, they were quite surprised. One of them raised his hand and asked, “Will the last question be part of our grade?” The professor said, “Yes, in the real world to be a great nurse you must have the compassion to acknowledge and respect everyone.”
I often think of that wise professor as I traverse the expanses of life and leadership. As I reflect on this today, I cannot help but feel sad how our minds can sentence people into irrelevance. And we are all susceptable to this fallacy if we are not careful.
When you stop and think about it, there are people in our everyday life that no one pays attention to. It’s as if they are invisible. We may see them, but they seem so inconsequential to us that we simply move past them mentally. When we think about them, we say to ourselves that we care for them. But do we?
We all feel invisible at some point in our lives. I remember when I felt invisible. At age 15, I was an immigrant into the USA. As a teenage student in a new country, I often felt that I did not matter much to those around me. After a few months, one 15 year old boy, John, talked to me. He actually wanted to spend time with me. I remember that clearly.
I also recall when I worked as a bell boy at a hotel. I don’t know if the guests really saw me. Or when I was a lowly medical student in a surgery room. The surgeon (at least most of them) did not even see me, even though I stood right next to them. I had to stand there retracting part of the abdominal wall while they operated on someone’s insides.
And that’s okay. That’s a part of living in society. I am more visible now. Most of us seem to work hard at moving toward relevance because to feel relevant is to feel human.
But I remember how it felt to be overlooked, and I never want to forget that feeling.
I never want to forget because I have found that I too can easily overlook the bell boy when I am traveling, the custodian who works for me, or the student who is on my team – if I am not careful.
I never want to forget because leaders who do, contribute to the creation of class cultures within their organizations. And people who do will find themselves living in societies that allow Dalits (India’s “untouchable” class) to exist.
So if you’ve ever felt invisible, will you join me in seeing the invisible today?
Question: When have you felt invisible? Will you commit with me to see the invisible? (Scroll down to the comments to reply.)
I hope you have a wonderful 2014 full of purpose, passion, and success.
With much love and respect,