Friday, December 09, 2022

The Super Power Of Seeing One Another


Recently, someone using the photo of a ruggedly handsome man tried to the get the attention of women commenting under some of the posts on my Teacher Tom Facebook page. It was the same message over and over, complementing the women and suggesting that they get to know one another. He was easily identified as a "troll" and I banned the account from my page. I don't know exactly what he was up to, but since there are a lot better sites than Facebook for finding dates, I imagine he was trying to rope women into some sort of relationship that would allow him to scam them financially. Whatever the case, he was undoubtedly, like all trolls, up to no good.

In H.G. Wells 1897 novella The Invisible Man, the protagonist, Griffin, discovers how to cause his body to neither reflect nor absorb light, rendering himself invisible. He imagines that this super power makes him like a "god among men." After all, an invisible person can go about undetected, doing pretty much what he wants with impunity. He begins by playing pranks, then segues into committing petty crimes, and before long he is terrorizing his fellow humans.

In other words, invisibility turned him into a monstrous troll in the same way that anonymity turns otherwise normal people into trolls on the internet. At one time or another, most of us have imagined the benefits of being "a fly on the wall," but it doesn't take much deep thought to understand why "invisible" people, like trolls, behave the way they do. What else are you going to do with invisibility or anonymity other than to terrorize or victimize others? Some suggest that Well's story reveals the true evil nature of humans, just as anonymity on the internet allows people to be their true evil selves. But I'm more inclined to the conclusion that the state of not being "seen" by our fellow humans causes this evil behavior.

Humans, from the time we are born, crave connection with others. We know the psychological harm caused by a sense of alienation, of not being a part of society. Inevitably, when we hear the stories of people who have committed atrocities they are nearly always tales of abuse and neglect. And they are almost always found to have left evidence of their guilt as an anonymous online troll. Of course, they are mentally ill, but it is, I assert, a mental illness caused by the fact of their invisibility.

A long time ago, a petty thief managed to slip into the hallway of our school as we were finishing up our day with a song the way we always did. As we sang goodbye to one another, he made off with a number of purses that had been left hanging on the hooks out there. Piecing together what happened, several of us realized that we had seen the man, but had assumed he was there, like the rest of us were, to pick up one of the kids. In other words, he had used the power of invisibility and anonymity to take advantage of us. In the aftermath, we implemented security measures, but the centerpiece of our community plan was friendliness. We agreed that whenever we encountered an adult around the place with whom we were unfamiliar, we would welcome them warmly, shake their hands, and, most importantly, let them know they had been seen.

A few weeks later, my father came by the school to take me out to lunch. When he finally found me indoors tidying up, he was beaming, "Wow," he said, "Everyone here is so friendly."

It's visibility, not invisibility, that is the true super power. When we let others know they are seen, we bring them into the fold of humanity, at least a little bit, and it's there that we are all finally most human. And it's a power that we can only bestow upon others.

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"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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