“We do not see with our eyes. We choose not to see with our eyes!”
WHAT DON’T WE SEE (BECAUSE WE SEE ONLY WHAT WE WANT TO SEE)?
A Knowledge Huddle on the 11th of February 2019 in Galera, Mexico City.
This article was co-written by Roberto Degli Esposti with the participation of Anja Puntari, Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, and Rocio Harispuru.
What escapes our perception when we take the perspective of people living in one of the largest cities in the world? What is hidden and difficult to grasp when we live together with 22 million other people at 2400 meters above sea level? And how does the understanding of the state of art differ between a leader of a biology laboratory, a company manager, an environmental engineer, a contemporary art curator, or people who recently started an NGO devoted to fight against human trafficking?
In collaboration with Rocio Harispuru and Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, the Mexican Knowledge Huddle of GRASP Network took place in the exciting location of Galera, a multidisciplinary space that promotes creative experimentation through a diverse cultural agenda. This is already the third K-Huddle of GRASP Network in a row. The first one was held in Milano at Aa29 Project room, the second one at the Academy of applied Arts of our home city Vienna. Stimulated by the space and the bright minds of the participants, the Finnish Artist Anja Puntari and Italian Executive Business Coach Roberto Degli Esposti facilitated an inspiring reflection on what we collectively or individually avoid seeing even when it is often right there in front of our eyes.
What does it mean to see?
Certainly, seeing has its biological and physical limits. We can only see in one direction at a time. We cannot see behind us if we don’t turn around. Our brain is constantly taking in stimuli from the outside world, and changing its chemistry to fit what’s happening. But seeing is not only a reflection of what is going on in the environment around us. Seeing is also a process of looking inside ourselves. And it is always a choice: a decision to look at things in order to see them or, in contrast, to avoid seeing something we want to miss.
Aside from our conscious intentions, one of the principal thoughts that emerged during the huddle was the role of our emotions in seeing, perceiving and “registering”. “We want to be strong,” said one participant. “We want to be with the strong. Our society doesn’t accept vulnerability – not in ourselves, nor in others.” Another participant added that “it is not merely a question of a specific feeling, but of the act of not feeling in general. Feeling happiness means at times also being sad. We cannot have one without the other. But we don’t want that. That is why it is simpler to try to ‘shut out’ our feelings and not feel at all. We do this both in private life and at work, and this is when we stop seeing what is actually happening around us and to us”.
The disconnection that brings to violence we do not see
So what does “not feeling” do to us? It causes us not to be connected with what we do. The disconnection becomes evident and has consequences in many different circumstances. How is research done: does it really serve someone or something? What are the limits of thinking only through data? Often political discussions or business decisions are based on numbers and not the reality behind them. Besides pure data we should find other parameters to help us evaluate our decisions. We should create connections between the people at the top levels of the society, in our companies, and in our research organizations in order that they can truly relate to what is happening and create real meaning. Design can be a big help in this. If we design more human centered decision- and research processes, the outcome of these activities can radically change. The people in decision-making positions should develop the ability to be connected and disconnected at the same time, in order to make good decisions for our common collectivity.
Another aspect of disconnection is not seeing the violence that happens around us. Violence appears at first glance to be something very clear – but is not. We have the tendency to pay attention to what we assume is violence based on our own culture, faith, gender, beliefs, and values – and many other variables.Violence is often confused with cruelty. From a communication point of view, in many cases it appears much more effective to deliver brutal stories or details in order to attract larger audiences or to secure an “effective” story. But the real violence, the one that really affects our environment and people, is often much closer to ourselves. It creates a touching distance; we interfere with it almost every day. Yet even though it is close by, most of the time we don’t see it.
This may be due to a lack of companionship and compassion. Society oversimplifies what is good and what is bad, what is violent and what is not. A lack of empathy for people not included in our circle of family or friends prevents us from seeing much violence, or perceiving violent behaviors and actions by people very close to us.
Escaping the destructive drive for success
This attitude, the lack of empathy for others, is “amplified” by a very demanding environment in both our professional and personal activities. Our time is fully booked in day to day activities, our energy and our emotional resources even more. Very few of us manage to allocate time and attention to seeing what is really happening around us.
We live in an age where the drive for success is very strong without really understanding the consequences of it. What is the impact of success on our health, mind, emotions, relationships? What is the price we have to pay if we gain it? In the startup sector, what rarely is said is that failure is actually far more probable than success. How do we learn to cope with it? One answer to this question could be creativity. In order to be creative, we have to overcome our own bias and stop “labeling” things in order to confront them with a fresh mind.
Another solution could be to give more attention to personal and collective psychological growth. Regaining time and emotional resources by devoting attention to better listening to others and - even more - to ourselves - may be a first step towards a better understanding of all the different types of violence and unbalance around us. Slowing down might give us the opportunity to leverage other observations or points of view sustained by an open discussion. It may help to better focus on what’s going on, which type of violence is affecting whom or what, and how we can do better in order to play a positive role in supporting, sustaining and/or simply empathizing.
Detachment from nature
There is a radical disconnection between man and nature. This is a particular field in which detachment becomes more than evident and has terrible consequences. We are absolutely incapable of seeing that mankind is part of nature. We are unable to apprehend that our way of life will destroy nature and the environment and in the end it will also destroy us as humanity. We do not feel part of nature. Being 22 million people in Mexico City at an altitude of 2400 meters accentuates this detachment. How did we arrive at a point in which nature is weak and humankind is strong?
Having the courage to define your own weakness makes you strong - like the whale that doesn’t perceive his own fragility.
The whale, such a magnificent and powerful creature, isn’t aware of its own fragility. It doesn’t even know man, maybe the only living being in the world that can really harm it. It doesn’t perceive its weakness because it can’t. Like the whale, we do not see what is going to annihilate us, not because we are physically or biologically prevented from doing it, but merely because we do not acknowledge our weakness. To our eyes, vulnerability is not a choice, so we choose not to see. We do not see it. Our eyes disconnect us and isolate us from the reality that surrounds us.
So in conclusion: WHAT DON’T WE SEE? We see through our eyes and because of that we are unable to acknowledge the paradox that grasping reality through our eyes is the very fact that prevents us from seeing. Is it in our power to change that?