As a people, we have become pretty numb to our surroundings. It’s as if there is so much external stimulus that our senses have just dulled a bit. Ok, a lot. All the while this is happening we are being constantly reminded of our own self-importance. There’s a lot of emphasis on self-development, self-esteem, selfies… you know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying this stuff is bad. It’s not. The self-development movement has spurred more young adults to attend college, to read, to develop their skills in the arts. The self-esteem culture we live in is helping to repair generational wounds that have run deep for so many. We are finally starting to open our eyes to body shaming and be more compassionate as a culture about mental illness. Selfies are great. I’m a photographer and I deeply believe in using images to document our lives. It’s all great.
But couple it with a dulling of our senses to the world around us and the addition of everyone constantly staring at a smartphone and we are seriously at risk of becoming a generation of accidental narcissists.
It’s a strange phenomenon. We give more to causes than ever before. We all #takeastand on social media any time there is injustice. We are better informed from a wider variety of media sources than generations gone by. The world is becoming a smaller and more connected place in so many ways. Yet we seem to be becoming less socially intelligent, less able to communicate, and less able to see the ones right in front of us.
Here’s what I mean… (and I’m guilty of this too!)
How can we believe in putting an end to body shaming, then say to our best girlfriend who has always struggled with her weight, “Oh my gosh, I couldn’t get into my size 2 jeans this morning.”?
We are so unaware. People are in pain. They are hurting, they are tired, they are lonely, they are broke, they are struggling with infertility, their mother passed away, they are having marital conflict, they are in need of our eyes and we are over here talking about our Hawaii vacation, our best friend who is having another baby, and how we can’t stand our mom being so nosey in our lives.
We are SO unaware.
The greatest gift we could give the world around us, the people around us… is to SEE THEM.
How can we do this?
First, let’s acknowledge that we can be accidental narcissists. I know I can be. After we have gotten that out of the way, we can take a look at some of the below strategies to help us be more aware.
People feel safe and comfortable when they are mirrored. If they are speaking slowly, speak slowly. If they are leaning forward in their chair, try leaning forward as well. If they are using easy-to-understand words and your verbiage sounds like it came out of a medical journal, they aren’t likely to feel comfortable.
Use the right medicine. If a friend is sharing a wound with you, address it using the exact opposite word that they used to describe their pain. It’s the perfect antidote. If they say they feel excluded, bless them to feel included. If they feel unloved, use the word loved. If they feel unimportant, lonely, or weak use the words important, surrounded and strong.
Listen with all you have. Make eye contact, nod your head, and pay full attention. Repeating back what you hear is another great way to show you are actively listening. For example, if someone is telling you about a time when they felt left out because they weren’t invited to a party you can repeat back to them, “I’m so sorry that happened. It must have been terrible to feel left out when you weren’t invited.” Your friend will feel SO heard and validated.
It’s not about you. Try not to interject a story where something similar has happened to you and avoid comparing their pain to yours in any way. This selflessness is a precious gift you can give that can bring incredible healing.
Know your audience. When in a group setting, it’s easy for the birds of a feather to flock together. If you have a group of mostly young moms with one or two grandmas, it can be easy to talk about terrible two’s, sippy cups and diapers. Be sure to remember that is a far gone stage for some people present and ask them about their current stage. This will help them to feel included and you’ll get to glean from the wisdom of someone different than yourself.
Be aware of trigger points. If there is a member of your circle who is struggling financially, sharing about a recent huge shopping trip can be hurtful. Same goes for those struggling with health issues, infertility, loss of a loved one, or any other major pain. Be aware and sensitive to these points to avoid accidentally hurting a friend.
To truly see and love the people in front of us is the most transformative power in the world today. It is my prayer that these strategies will empower you to bring healing, love and connection everywhere you go.