Two of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bruce Springsteen and Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, share a motif: the need for humans to see and be seen. At some point in between songs during many of his concerts, Springsteen will shade his eyes from the spotlights with his hand, or the house lights will go up and he will ask, “Is anybody alive out there?” The line actually appears verbatim in his song “Radio Nowhere.”
Meanwhile Duritz provides a sort of reciprocal query from the object to the subject when he sings, “Have you seen me lately?” in the song of that same title. Similarly, in the song “Insignificant,” Duritz asks the exact question, “Can you see me?” multiple times. The theme of seeing and “being seen” appears again in “Angel of 14th Street” from the Counting Crows new EP Butter Miracle in which Duritz repeatedly asks some version of “Do we need a light on.”
As a typically overly-sensitive middle child (In my case the 4th of 8 siblings) and as a person of nondescript features and average talents, I’ve related to and struggled with this notion of wanting/needing to be seen and validated all of my life. I know. It sounds a bit pathetic. But I don’t think I’m all that rare in my need. In fact, I believe it’s one of the motivations that led me and, most likely, many others to become teachers, where every day of the school year, I/we stand in front of students who have no choice but to see me/us, listen to me/us, and even occasionally validate me/us as somebody with something worthy of saying.
I, furthermore, have no doubt that the need to be seen and validated is a primary motivation for my novel writing, blogging, and my presence on Facebook. I admit that I’m terrible at self-validation. These forums occasionally blow up in my face in the form of negative reviews, counter-argument, or worst of all, the absence of interest, but I persist because, for me, being rejected is far preferable to being neglected. Even if you hate my ideas, at least I know that you know I exist. I was once taught in a class on human behavior that physical abuse is less damaging to a child than neglect, for the abused child feels their abuser at least cares enough about them to abuse them. The neglected child feels invisible or as if they do not even exist.
Perhaps, that is why I have such a strong affinity for students and people, in general, who are independent thinkers and livers, who with Thoreauvian confidence and courage march to the beat of their own drummer. (I have for so long wanted to use “Thoreauvian” in a typed sentence.). I spotlight some of these folks in the “Some of the People in My Life” feature on this blog: https://tyroth.com/category/some-of-the-people-in-my-life/. I admire them. I envy them. I truly wish I were one of them, but I know that I desperately need to be seen and to be validated by others in order to know I exist and matter.
If you’ve read this far, thank you so much, but please understand that my purpose in this blog post is not to “fish for compliments.” My purpose is to lay myself open and vulnerable before anyone who is willing to see me – an act that grows increasingly easier as I age – with the hope of recognizing our common humanity and as a way of reasserting the notion of psychiatrist Thomas A. Harris that even with all of our faults and foibles, “I’m Ok — You’re OK.”
“Is anybody alive out there?”
“Can you see me?”
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