(Estimated reading time 4 minutes)
Sawubona. I see you.
Do you ever get the feeling that you have no idea what’s going on inside the people around you?
I get that sense sometimes as a parent, a spouse or a friend. I know for sure I had the feeling years back when an acquaintance died by suicide, but it was never more apparent than the time I reconnected with old friends from my school-going years. Thirty-five years loosened lips, and we spoke of teenage experiences. I wondered as I listened, how I could have been there but also been so utterly absent or self-absorbed that I didn’t notice a teenage pregnancy, an abusive home or a struggle with sexual identity. Why did I not see?
What am I not noticing now?
Sawubona. I see you.
Sawubona is the Zulu greeting that means hello, but its literal translation is I see you, or we see you. Sawubona implies a deep witnessing that happens of the other person, and in seeing deeply, we somehow bring something into existence.
This bringing something into existence by seeing is an idea I’ve struggled with for some time. I’m still trying to figure it out. Does that mean, without us noticing, that particular thing would not exist or somehow lie dormant? I don’t know.
I think of losing someone close, and in the loss, we not only lose our loved one but also lose something of ourselves – the part they brought out of us. I see you, and in seeing, I bring you into being.
I think of my conversations years ago, with a woman who was struggling deeply with self-worth and other things. I remember consciously trying to see below the tough exterior and show acceptance, love and compassion. I recall that over time, she started viewing herself differently, too, and it changed some of her behaviour. I see you, and in seeing, I bring you into being.
Recently, I had the chance the do an exercise where I had to connect with the childhood version of myself. I looked at photos, asked my parents what I was like as a child and took a trip down memory lane. It was significant. I recalled a part of myself that I had forgotten. I wondered what it would be like to bring that characteristic into my work and life now. In seeing it, I somehow can’t unsee it now. It’s part of what I’m thinking about and re-awakening in myself. In seeing it, I somehow am bringing it into being.
There are many cultures and traditions which espouse this type of seeing. From my Christian tradition, this is about seeing people as created in the image of God – not just some people, all people. It’s about looking deeply and finding the image of God that is reflected there (even when it’s buried). It’s about finding a way to fan that reflection of God into flame. It’s about seeing and bringing into being.
Perhaps this deep witnessing of others is the antidote to all the hostility and toxicity out there. When we look closely and see the humanity in another, see the image of God reflected there, it is tough to mistreat the other person without losing our own humanness.
In its most profound sense, seeing is about telling someone else that they matter. When we don’t see others, they are at best unlikely to appreciate themselves and, at worst, not seeing another can be devastating and destructive. When someone else accepts about me what I despise in myself, I learn that maybe, just maybe, I can ease up on judging myself so harshly. Perhaps I can even learn to accept who I am, and I can perhaps even begin to love the unique quirkiness that is me. When I can love myself that way, I can finally be free to give that gift to others. That is the beauty of seeing. It’s the gift we give each other.
If we want a better world, we can’t only want to be seen that way. We have to see others in the same way – with compassion, curiosity, openness, acceptance, empathy and love.
What tremendous power that gives us.
Sawubona. I see you.
This Week’s Photos
I’m an amateur photographer. I love photography because it’s all about seeing. It’s one of the things I love about coaching too – I get to look with a fresh set of eyes. I get to find and share the unseen and unappreciated in people. Seeing others deeply, with loving eyes, changes things. Seeing yourself that way changes things too.
I recently remembered this poem and so enjoyed it, I wanted to share it with you.
Coaching is about living deliberately, setting aside resignation and sucking the marrow out of life. If you’re interested in doing that, reach out to me.