As a lover of language, I enjoy playing with words. Puns, plays on words, and semantics are all sources of great pleasure for me.
Some semantics, however, matter far more than others.
I recently heard a talk based on a story from Luke 7, in the Bible. There are 3 main characters – Jesus, a man named Simon, and a “sinful woman.” Simon was hosting Jesus in his home, and the woman had just shown up uninvited. Simon had just finished commenting on the immoral state of the woman and how it would be better to not associate with her. Here comes the crux of the story.
Verse 44 says: “then Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘do you see this woman?’”
At first glance, this is a rather odd question. The woman was standing in Simon’s house, for goodness’ sake. Of course Simon saw her – he was standing right next to her!
There is a difference between looking and seeing. Simon may have been looking at the woman, but he wasn’t seeing her – he wasn’t seeing her true humanity.
This really hit home with me.
I thought about all the times I’ve walked past homeless people, not even willing to look them in eye. About when I avoided going to hospitals because the sterile, lifeless walls and weird smells gave me the heebie-jeebies. About all those times when I judged someone solely based off of a single fact about them.
For as often as I have failed to see others, others have also failed to see me. The exchange students who only wanted to spend time with me to practice their English. The people who shunned me after finding out about my arrest. Sometimes even positive judgements are frustrating – I’m so much more than a pretty face or a smart brain.
I know from experience how painful it is to not be seen. Humans are created for connection; we are wired to be known. Perhaps that is why the talk I heard hit so close to home for me. I hated the fact that I had inflicted such pain on others, albeit unintentionally.
Everyone deserves to be seen. Everyone is more than a set of shallow assumptions and stereotypes.
So I’m challenging myself to start making an effort to truly see people. To make eye contact with everyone I pass. To inquire after things I know they’re struggling with, and to really listen when I ask how they’re doing.
Will you join me?