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People want to be noticed, not invisible

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Do you remember a time in your childhood when an adult validated you as a whole human being, rather than as a developing or junior human? John Kabat-Zinn includes a focus on this dynamic in Coming to Our Senses in the short chapter entitled "Being Seen". It could have been a quiet moment when a relative peacefully and contentedly watched the sunset with you, or genuinely sought your opinion to help make a decision about a movie to select or a clothing color scheme to choose. Zinn says "It is amazing how few such memories any of us have…"

Alternatively, do you remember a time in your childhood where adults tried making you invisible? The grade school teacher who one day said to me as a first grader that children should be seen but not heard, had no business being a parent herself.

The thirst of people to be noticed, heard and understood helps explain why so many criminal suspects spill the beans to the police. The police may be the first ones who seem to closely listen to the suspect’s story. Under the pain of a harsher prosecution, some suspects give into such a delusion of validation.

In 1983, when doing a short study of the then-infant satellite television industry as an intern with a space industry consulting company, I was blown away that some of the technology’s top developers were willing to spend more than a few moments on the phone with me, including giving me their views on what laid ahead with the technology. When I told one of my company’s consultants of my surprise, he replied that many of these satellite engineers thirst for people genuinely interested in what they have to say, and that plenty of them likely have spouses who lose interest in hearing about their work.

In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, I represented scores of injury victims in personal injury lawsuits. Wise opposing lawyers created an appearance of being as interested as possible in what the injury victims had to say, not out of wanting to help the victims, but to help the opposing lawyers’ clients. So many of my clients wanted simply to be heard, that they were willing to weaken their cases by overtalking to opposing lawyers during depositions.

I remember a story of a litigant in a relatively minor matter who heard in open court that the case against him had been dismissed. He got very angry, having preferred to have been heard and to have lost, than to have simply accepeted the dismissal.

Most people want to be validated and noticed. When they are criminal suspects and suing injury victims, they are experiencing at least an analogue to fifteen minutes of fame. Some people relish the attention, while others urgently wish to return to obscurity.

Some of the children who felt ignored and not validated as children grow up to become clients jurors, police, prosecutors, judges, opposing witnesses, and supportive witnesses. It will backfire to patronize them about anything we learned about their childhoods. It benefits our clients to show everyone we deal with on our their behalf that we will give them our full time and attention, and show them that we will focus genuine interest in them.

To give others our full time and attention, we must also do so with ourselves. How can we attend fully to others without also fully attending to ourselves?