Julien Smith posted an interesting thought experiment the other day asking the question: What if you were invisible?
I don’t normally have much luck with thought experiments, but I haven’t been able to get this one to go away. Funny, isn’t it? As Rumi said, though, who pays attention t a bird flying straight? If you see a bird flying crooked, it’s out of place, so you look. So what’s so crooked about the idea of being invisible?
The problem is that so many of us are. We fit in. We’re acceptable. Even iconoclasts spend a lot of time “being different just like everyone else” that the effect becomes lost. Actually, I’d argue this is even more ironic for iconoclasts, mostly because the very act of being defined, of having a title, becomes categorization, which is a form of fitting in, which ruins the effect all together.
But what about the rest of us?
I have a hard time with this partly because of my son. He’s two and a half. He washes dishes, bakes, talks about numbers and proportion, and dances. And sings. And wants to be talked to sleep. So much of what he does is atypical of someone his age that I think he stands out thoroughly. But then, most parents probably do. What I worry over is teaching him values that allow him to have the attitude that supports standing out, without any of the fallbacks that being singular (not to be confused with being alone) like arrogance or entitlement.
I have no problem being invisible. It’s a problem of scale, really. The people I’m in contact with think I’m interesting, I hope, but beyond that – I’ve never been interested in fame. I like having credit for what I do mostly because it’s the only way to assure that what I’m doing is successful – but if I were the kind of invisible Julien suggests? I’d learn to look for other metrics, ones that didn’t need to report back to me. Satisfaction is not participant-centric, not from the creation side. Satisfaction is receiver-based.
But what about when your invisibility affects someone else? I may have all the killer instinct of a blueberry muffin, but what about my son?
As my son grows, I’m trying to teach him values. I know, it’s a bit futile right now, because he’s small, but there’s no such thing as starting too early. Part of the values associated with interaction are going to be harder to relate, when they become necessary, if I don’t know what’s effective and what’s not. I didn’t know before – I was very closed off in school and as a child, I never had a large bank of shallowly related friends. I was clique guy. How am I supposed to teach my son to be well rounded, to find his own best volume of interaction, with only that as an information base?
Extend that; how do the children of invisible people behave?
If all you’ve got to teach your children is invisibility, and learning to take satisfaction from the nameless effect you have on others, what happens if that cloaking effect isn’t inherited? If you’re invisible and your kids aren’t – what then? Will you be able to teach them how to behave in crowds? If they want to learn to speak in public, will you be able to give them that first exposure? No. So, will you learn to direct them where they can get the first exposure?
Or worse. What if you’re famous. And your kids are invisible? What then?
Fame, attention, comes with a pressure to perform. Many people garner attention from having that killer instinct, the claiming credit whether it’s due or not. Arrogance is a solution to societal guilt over achievement, sure, but if your kids are set up to be unrecognised, and all you have to teach is cut-throat, attitude to the social capital of attention, what service are you doing to those who have no access to that currency? What will you teach them when their path diverges from yours that exactly?
What can you learn from someone who has no knowledge relevant to your success?
Photo by SpecialKRB.