I was walking to a workshop on Coaching Success with one of my favorite inspirational people in the world, Dr. Robert Holden, when I walked by a young man who was wearing tattered clothes and looked as if he had not seen a shower in days. I said good morning, as I do with most people I see, and kept walking.
What happened next stopped me in my tracks. “Thank you” was whispered at me in a soft, crackling voice. “I am sorry. I didn’t quite catch what you said.” I had heard him. I was just so surprised by the words that I had to hear it again just to make sure. “I said thank you. No one ever sees me.”.
A day earlier Dr. Holden taught us an exercise based on the South African concept of Ubuntu which means I am, because you are. We are all connected. All one. In the exercise we look into the eyes of another person in the workshop, moments earlier a stranger. The first person says “I am here to be seen.” The other person responds by saying “I see you.” And then you reverse roles. It is a powerful experience. You have to be vulnerable to let them in and really see you. You have to be present to really see them.
Coincidence I met this young man on the street, Matt, and had the opportunity to really see him? I think not. I told Matt I saw him and he broke down in tears. Any fear I had engaging with him washed away with his tears. I learned his story of losing his job due to his mental illness and his family deserting him leaving him to fend for himself on the streets. My father also has a mental illness, schizophrenia, and it made Matt’s story even more touching to me. I saw my father in his eyes. I saw Matt. I saw myself. I saw that we are all one.
How many people do you pass through the day and not even notice? What if you looked just one of those people in the eyes and said hello? What if you really looked in the eyes of your parents, your partner, your children, or your best friends? What if you asked them to see you? I invite you to try it and share your experiences with this remarkable community. If this can melt away just one issue in our society or build a stronger bond in just one relationship I’ll consider it a shuckshesh!
Notes of Gratitude: The University of Santa Monica does a similar activity at the end of every class weekend called soul gazing. Since USM is so near and dear to my heart I want to acknowledge Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick too. I also want to acknowledge the Challenged Athletes Foundation for first introducing me to Ubuntu when we rode across South Africa to raise money for this unbelievable organization (www.challengedathletes.org).