Earlier this summer I had the privilege of going on my second honor flight to Washington D.C. as a guardian (companion) to a U.S. veteran. To say it was truly an honor to honor those who fought on our country’s behalf would be an understatement. It was a wonderful experience. If you ever have a chance to go on one, you should!
On this particular flight, I spent the day touring monuments in the Capitol with my new friend, Vince. Vince, along with quite a few others in our group, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. During the war, he was a medic on one of two ships anchored off the coast that took in the wounded. Vince shared stories of an almost constant bombardment of incoming casualties, working on the critically injured, watching soldiers die, and how, by God’s grace, he’s been able to “blackout” the most traumatic memories. Vince is my hero.
Speaking of heroes, many of the Vietnam vets on the trip spoke of being thought of as anything but a hero once they arrived back home. Instead of a hero’s welcome with lots of pats on the back and much-deserved accolades, returning soldiers were often flipped the bird (classy, right?!) and called baby-killers (even classier).
Stories like these are why accompanying veterans on Honor Flights is so special to me. The flights are our chance as citizens of the U.S. to redeem ourselves and to give them the recognition they fully deserve. The veterans get treated like royalty the day of the flight. They are often the recipients of thundering rounds of applause at the airport and the various monuments located in D.C.
Speaking of Recognition…
When you think of recognition, what comes to mind? Is it an aha moment when you can identify someone you’ve met or seen before? “I know you. I think we’ve met before”. Maybe it’s when you finally “get” something and realize it’s true. “Ah, I get it now.” Or how about recognizing someone for their achievements, service or merit? “We’d like to recognize Ms. Anderson for her 30 years of service to our company.”
All of the above check ✔ the box on ways to recognize people, but we mustn’t forget that recognition can also be as simple as acknowledging someone for their existence, appreciating them for being their unique self, and applauding them for using their gifts and talents and walking into the purpose God has for them.
Do You See Me?
Do you remember the TV sitcom from the 1970s “Welcome Back, Kotter”? I had a giant preteen crush on Vinnie Barbarino (played by John Travolta), but my favorite character was Arnold Horshack. Arnold was known for his dramatic, almost yelling of “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I got it!” when he was trying to get the attention of the teacher Mr. Kotter (you can click here to get a glimpse of who I’m referring to). Arnold desperately wanted to be seen and acknowledged. I think we all do.
So what’s it mean to feel “seen”? It might be easier if I explained what “feeling unseen” means.
To feel “unseen,” one often feels unrecognized for their achievements (i.e., Vietnam vets), unacknowledged for their existence, invisible to those around them, disregarded by an ignoring world, and dismissed and considered unworthy.
Here are a few of my own stories that may help you better understand the feeling of being unseen:
- Many years ago, I gave up a career to stay home with our three sons and believed that all of my higher education was being wasted. I no longer dressed up in business casual attire, I wasn’t needed on committees, I stopped attending conferences and other professional obligations, and I wasn’t bringing a paycheck home any longer. I traded a profession for diaper changing, spit-up, and a house full of Playskool toys. For the first few years, I felt invisible. I felt that people only saw my kids and had forgotten about me. I felt unacknowledged.
* I’ve since come to know, without a doubt, that staying home with my kiddos was a gift. Motherhood is one of the hardest (yet fulfilling) careers there is.
- My husband and I are parents to three sons. The oldest are twins. When our sons were younger, it became apparent that having twins was quite the novelty. People oohed and aahed and were intrigued with our two “double troubles” and often dismissed our youngest as if he was just an “add-on.” He resented this at times, so he went out of his way to prove his worth and existence. He often felt disregarded.
- When our oldest two went to college, it was a shock to my system, but when our last son went to college, I seriously felt like my role as Mom was over. Finished. Kaput. Now I was just 50-something ho-hum Lynn. I’d look at myself in the mirror and wonder, “now what?” I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt invisible.
The world is filled with a whole bunch of “Arnolds Horshacks” who just want to feel seen. Some “Horshack’s” are people we cross paths with only once in a while; others are more familiar to us, like our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, our children, our parents, or our siblings.
Maybe it’s a single parent trying to do their best, the student sitting alone in the cafeteria, the panhandler on the corner, the elderly, or the disabled. They’re out there. We must slow down from our hectic go-go-go-go life so we don’t miss them.
Fundamentals of Recognition
Recognition-showing people that you see them, care about them, and that them just being them-is a beautiful thing.
So what can you and I do to recognize people in the world around us? Here are a few fundamentals to help us get started:
- Listen to them. Taking the time to really listen to someone shows them you care. Be sure and make eye contact with them. Refuse to be distracted by what’s going on around you. Listening intently validates to them that what they have to say is important to you.
- Thank them. Gratitude is a universal language. Everyone can say it, and everyone can understand it. Say it often to show people you care and that they matter.
- Make time for them. Giving up part of your schedule and spending time with someone shows them that they are a priority to you and worth your time and effort.
- Support them. Be their sounding board. Offer your help. Cheer them on. Be one of their biggest fans. Come to their defense if needed. Be a safe judgment-free zone for them.
- Show them appreciation. Don’t just tell them you appreciate them. Take it a step further and explain why you appreciate them. Identify their qualities, gifts, and talents, and then tell them what you love about them.
- Acknowledge their accomplishments. Verbalize or give a token of appreciation for their achievements. This could be as simple as a hand-written note or a framed print for their office or bedroom wall. Maybe it’s flowers, jewelry, or a dinner out. The sky’s the limit on ways to acknowledge someone for their accomplishments.
You and I may not be bodybuilders, but we have a lot of power. We’ve got the power to make a difference in people’s lives every day by simply showing them that we see them, we sincerely care about them, and that what they do and who they are matters to us.
Friend, look around you today. Who do you see? Do you think they feel seen by you? Heard by you? Imagine how you can add value to someone’s life by simply recognizing them.
Before I go, let me know if you’ve struggled with feeling unseen. Do you still feel this way? If so, send me a note and let’s chat. I’m a great listener and would love to hear from you!
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