To really see someone, especially someone who looks up to you, is to give that person an important blessing. In a gaze of recognition, of understanding, in an appreciative look, there is deep blessing.
Often times, it is not so important that we say much to those for whom we are significant, but it is very important that we see them.
Let me try to explain:
A couple of years ago, a family that I know had a painful incident with their 13-year-old daughter. She was caught shoplifting. As things, turned out, she was stealing things that she neither needed or wanted.
Moreover, in her case, her stealing these things was not, as it often is among teens, something intended to impress peers, a little rite of passage necessary for acceptance into a group of friends.
No, without her saying so, she was stealing to get her father’s attention. Her father, struggling in his relationship to her mother, was not around a great deal and didn’t give a lot of attention to his daughter. So she forced his hand.
It was he that she demanded come to the police station to pick her up and settle things with the police. In doing that he had to give his daughter his attention. He had to look at her. Her shoplifting was a way of forcing her father to see her.
There is a deep longing inside of us to be seen by those to whom we look up—our parents, our elders, our leaders, our teachers, our coaches, our pastors and our bosses. It is important to us, more so than we generally imagine, that those who are above us, look at us, see us, recognize us.
We see this acted out ritually, for instance, when someone has an audience with the pope. In such an audience, not a lot of meaningful words are exchanged. The idea is not so much to have a deep conversation with the pope as it is to be seen by him.
It is important that the pope sees you, that he recognizes you, that his appreciative gaze falls upon you. There is a certain blessing imparted in that and, contemporary cynicism notwithstanding, those who have had an audience with the pope—or with the Queen or some royalty—have some feeling for what this is.
Blessing by seeing is one of the deep archetypal functions of all royalty, of all parents, and of all who lead others in any way. Thus . . .
Good Kings and Queens see their people; good parents see their kids; good teachers see their students; good pastors see their parishioners; good coaches see their players; good executives see their employees; and in really good restaurants the owner comes around to the tables and sees his or her costumers—and the customers are, without being able to explain why, grateful that the owner took the time and pain to see them.
We are blessed by being seen.
At a primal level we see this need to be blessed by being seen acted out in every playground on earth. The little child is playing at something, but he or she is constantly looking about for the parent and saying: “Mummy, watch me!” “Daddy, watch me!”
As well, more than one is the mother who cannot get any work done because her toddler is demanding every minute that mummy look at her or him.
And so, what’s my point?
My point is that today the young are not being seen enough in this way. Our youth, much like the 13-year-old girl referred to earlier, are acting out in all kinds of ways as a means of getting our attention. They want to, and they need to, be seen by us—parents, adults, teachers, priests, coaches, leaders. They need our blessing.
They need to see, right in our eyes, the radical acceptance of their reality and they need to read in our eyes the words: “You are my beloved child, in you I am wellpleased.”
Youth need our appreciative gaze; mostly they simply need our gaze—period. One of the deepest hungers inside of young people is the hunger for adult connection, the desire to be recognized, seen, by a significant adult.
The surface often belies this. We can easily be fooled and put off here. Our young people will, precisely, tend to give us the impression that they neither want nor need us, that we should butt out and leave them to their own world.
Nothing could be further from the truth. They desperately need, and badly want, the blessing that comes from our gaze and presence. They need for us to see them.
In the end, more than they want our words, they want our gaze . . . and so much of their acting out, the shoplifting, the drugs, the insolence and the absence, are little more than an attempt to force our hand, to demand and beg: “Mummy, Daddy, someone significant and adult, watch me!”