I do a lot of work with movement/dance. Last weekend, I participated in a workshop where I was very conscious of this idea of (in)visibility. One woman stands out in particular. She is stunning looking in a host of ways – including a number of tattoos. I have seen her at other movement events and sense that she likes to be visible. The tattoos alone – in very readily seen places on her body – create a loud invitation to look at her. But also, the few times I’ve seen her, she has been always conspicuous in terms of being in the centre of the room or standing while everyone else is sitting. Again, I hear ‘ Look at me.’ This has me thinking about the ways we encourage others to look at us and the extent which we are limiting or expanding what people see. The question that comes to mind is: How can we use our power to appear and disappear most effectively to bring about the change we desire?
I make a huge assumption with this question. I assume we have control over our visibility. At one level, this is fundamentally untrue. Try as we might, sometimes people simply refuse to see us. What then? What do we do? Well, I will come back to that particular issue in a future post. For now, I’m going to roll with the assumption: I/you/we can control and direct when and how we are seen – at least to some degree.
Our power is rooted in self-awareness. What do we see in ourselves that we want to make visible to those around us? What do we want to hide from others?
Social changemakers – whether in small or large ways – often are wanting to make our anger visible. We are driven to pursue change because of an injustice and wrong, a sense that ‘things should be different’ and we are angry that they are not. What happens if we focus on putting our anger out there – on being seen as ANGRY?
Anger, depending on its form, will receive a variety of responses. And that’s the key – what form does our anger take? When a group of protestors burns down a bunch of shops, they are seen as angry – but also as reckless, disrespectful, dangerous, and perhaps stupid, i.e. if those shops are in their own neighbourhood. In such a situation, I imagine witnesses – those for whom the anger is meant – become less inclined to pause and ask ‘Why such anger?” or “What responsibility do I have to try and engage with this person’s sense of injustice?’ Rather than become curious, witnesses to such anger are more likely to become confused, dismissive and silent.
This is by no means a suggestion that we encourage violent anger by responding to it – by sending the message ‘be violent, it is the way to get seen and heard.’ Again, that raises a related but different topic. Nor is it to suggest that we avoid expressing anger. The pressing question is: What are the most effective ways of bringing our angry selves into visibility – the ways which encourage others to engage with it and us and the others aspects of our selves we want them to see, e.g., the creative problem-solver, courage, compassion?
I like to answer this question by focusing attention firstly on the source(s) of the anger. Why are we angry and what request(s) do we want to make of others to change what it is that draws us to anger? What aspects of our requests are fixed and what actually are fluid, i.e., we want a more fair decision, but we aren’t locked on one route to achieve that sense of fairness. Then I focus on the direction of the anger – to whom is it towards? In my actions, am I being truthful or misdirected, e.g., am I wrongly shooting a messenger for a message created by someone else? Next, I wonder ‘What does escalation look like?’ That is, what does a request look like and if that meets resistance, what does my demand look like? When does it make most sense to request? To demand? What is the most effective way to express either?
I also am aware of a set of questions I think can get easily lost: How can I connect with the people who have the power to meet my request/demand? How can I connect with others who may be sympathetic to my request/demand – and support me in the asking?
When people look at us, what they see is inevitably determined both by what we make visible and what’s alive in them and shapes the lens through which they are viewing us. The final set of questions coming to mind on this topic, for right now: What do I want people to see in me? How do I know if they are seeing it – and if not, what are they seeing in its place? If I’m hiding something – rendering a part of myself invisible – why am I doing that and what is the consequence?