“THE ROOM SHOULD FEEL EMPTY WHEN YOU’RE IN IT,” said Vanessa Redgrave’s character to the young African American boy in the movie, “The Butler.” Redgrave was the mistress of the home and was training the young boy to become her house servant, and to excel in the “art” of invisible service.
Those words…the room should feel empty when you’re in it …tore like a knife through my heart. So much so that I took out my pen in the middle of the movie and scratched out those words in the dark.
To me, that one sentence summed up what the Civil Rights movement was really all about. Being seen.
This is not a movie review but I could write one with great passion. I recently wrote a post in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 50th anniversary of his I Have A Dream speech. I think it aligns perfectly with my sentiments about the movie and about that period in history:
It wasn’t our finest moment
and though we’ve come far on the moral arc,
we have far, far to go.
Those words….the room should feel empty when you’re in it, keep coming back to mind. Being invisible, unseen, can extend beyond racial discrimination and boundaries. It can spill over into so many areas of life.
As humans, I believe we have a need to be seen. In the workplace. At home. In society. Yet, being seen, being visible, is not the same as seeking validation or approval. That can only come from within.
Being seen is about basic human connection and about our contribution to the whole. It’s about knowing that we’re all in “this” together and that we all matter. When people are “not seen” they are in a sense, actually being de-humanized. And to say to another human being …”the room should feel empty when you’re in it,” is to me, the height of degradation and de-humanization.
Visibility, in the form of approval, is a completely different matter. When we start chasing validation from outside sources, bosses, lovers, critics, (ex, how many comments, likes I get on my blog), we inevitably end up in a sinkhole we can’t climb out of it. (I know this one.)
One day, depending upon your approval level, you feel good. The next day, without positive feedback, your self-esteem plummets like the Dow and you’re left emotionally bankrupt. That’s because you’re investing your energy, your stock, in circumstances and people outside of yourself to be seen.
True visibility, true power, comes from standing in one’s own light. In one’s truth.
In “The Butler,” Forest Whitaker, who goes from humble house servant to butler for eight American presidents, was the master of his own power. His quiet dignity helped to reflect back truth….to those who held “the power.” And by standing in his own integrous light, he was able to be seen, to be visible….and to light the way for others.
In particular, we women must too remember our power comes from our own internal source. And from mastering our own integrity. By standing in our light, without approval, without permission, without apology, we can light the way for ourselves, and for others.
We can be the silent sirens that call the hearts home to safety, to love, to those higher places that reside within us all…and are easily recognizable, if not always by the human eye, the human heart.