"At middle age the soul should be opening up like a rose, not closing up like a cabbage."
-John Andrew Holmes

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Really Seeing


I heard an interview with a professional hostage negotiator, of all things, yesterday and he got me thinking about really seeing other people. Its so easy to be really judgmental about the people around us that we disagree with, who irk us, who seem evil, who screw us over in some significant way....but, I have been struck lately by the power in choosing to really see them instead.

This hostage negotiator guy was talking about his job (which he had done for decades) and at some point asked the interviewer what she might imagine would be the most important quality in an individual considering his profession. She suggested a few options that came to her mind: ability to control emotions, strong logical thinking, a powerful voice, thorough knowledge of the law...etc. Nope. The thing he had in mind was the ability to see the hostage taker as a real person with their own needs, a person who is looking for something who is trying a desperate act to either silence the pain of their need or in some strange way meet it. The best skill a hostage negotiator could posses is the ability to really see people? Wow. That bowled me over. What compassion! What humanity!

The fact that a professional in the FBI has spent years practicing really, truly seeing some of the worst in society doesn't mean he's a person of immense love, after all...the point is the connive a way to get the hostages free and that usually means either arresting or shooting the perpetrator, but still...the concept is so powerful that it seems to me that it would have to impact you. Practicing compassion and valuing human dignity and looking under all the bad stuff for a way to a single person's heart seems like a deeply powerful and profound thing to do over and over until its your knee-jerk reaction for interaction with a criminal.

I have heard before that we should love our fellow man, all men, because they are our kind. All humankind deserves respect just because it is an innate right , but I feel like this reason....understanding people's underlying needs and motivations takes things even further. Its not a bland blanket statement..."because they're human" or a vague notion, its individual specific and it takes us down to the deepest level of that particular person's driving force. We all have needs. Its not some early baby step on the road to maturity, something we once did before were so together. Needs are ever-present and healthy to boot. I feel like understanding our grouchy neighbor, our totally annoying four year old, the person who cuts us off in traffic, even the guy on the five o'clock news who shot a 15 year old in New York City or Hitler himself, the Western World's greatest scapegoat for evil...is a very good thing. Its a good thing because it develops in us a compassion that is always relevant and a hope that can see value where we're really tempted to dump a heap of culturally acceptable boiling anger.

Such is love. I aspire.

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