I recently spent some time in the homeland, and one day while I was there my niece Shelbie and I had some quality time together while her mom, my sister, was still at work. Shelbs was in the bathtub and we were playing a rousing game of drive-thru bank teller with the sliding shower doors when she stopped and she asked me a question.
What does my mom see?
As I am with many of this girl's questions, initially, because she is so stinking profound for a 5 year old, I was confused. What do you mean? I asked her.
She tried to explain. What does she see? Right now?
Still unsure if I was answering her question or not, I said that her mom probably saw her office, her computer, that kind of thing. And that sweet little angel face bank teller held her hands in the shape of a heart, sighed, and said, I wish she could see my heart instead.
We texted her a picture right then and there, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, so her mom did get to see her heart instead. But you guys. If that isn't a lesson in basic human empathy, I don't know what is. I don't sit often around wondering what people are seeing at a given moment. I don't think I have ever asked or heard of someone asking that question before. But isn't it a good one?
I take for granted that we are complex people with many senses, all of which we use to encounter the world. As a counselor, I ask all kinds of questions all the time about feelings and thoughts, about motivations and beliefs and experiences, but I rarely think about what someone simply sees, and what that means for them. Just the fact that Shelbie stopped in her tracks, assessed what she saw, thought about her mom seeing something different, and then wondered what that was is sort of amazing to me. And then she even went so far as to wish that she could make a difference in what her mom saw. I learn all the time about empathy from these little chickadees; it is one of their more powerful skills, I think. Whenever I spend time with them, it makes me want to be better at it myself.
I can get pretty caught up in my own self, in my own proverbial bath time and bank teller games, as it were. But that we would have these moments, however brief, where we stopped what we were doing for the simple purpose of wondering what another person is seeing at that same moment. Maybe even thought about a way we might help them see something better.