In a week dominated by news headlines of violent clashes between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and English Defence League (EDL) supporters in the UK – and similar conflicts over the same critical issues elsewhere in the world – the words of Martin Luther King seem as resonant as ever: ‘Violence is the voice of the unheard’; a rage-filled cry and angry lashing-out of those who feel, and are treated, as if invisible. It raises some hard questions: Who do we see and not-see? What would open our eyes?
‘The visible emerged from the invisible.’ (Lailah Gifty Akita)
Invisible: a deep sense of unseen, unheard, unnoticed or ignored – and that in contrast to a perceived, seen person or group. If I’m invisible, it’s as if I don’t matter, count, or exist. ‘You need to be more visible.’ It’s about exposure, acting in ways that will attract others’ attention; others that matter to you; that have sway over, say, your livelihood or career. That often means dancing, however awkwardly, to their tune; doing and achieving what matters most to them, and making sure they see it.
To be truly not-seen, to feel invisible, is a painful existential state, imbued with rejection, hurt and fear. If we feel marginalised, excluded from who or what matters most to us and can find no legitimate means to get close, we may resort to more desperate means to fulfil our need. To be seen is to be acknowledged, respected and invited in. It recognises, speaks and affirms a sense of dignity and worth. I exist, I matter and I belong; I have a voice and I will be heard; I’m engaged with real skin in the game.
I see a biblical narrative of a slave girl who was treated unjustly, cast out with nothing yet miraculously encountered by God: ‘You are the One who sees me.’ To see someone, to really see and not simply to cast a passing glance, is a call of leadership. To enable people to see themselves, and others, in a vibrant, fresh light is a call of coaching, training and OD. It inspires, reveals and releases talent, potential and contribution. Who do you see and not-see? How could you make the invisible more visible?