I am invisible simply because others refuse to see

29 Jul 2016

I am invisible simply because others refuse to see me - Ralph Ellison 

Sonia says: 

Over the past two weeks I have found myself pushed, bumped into or tripped over, which got me to the point of feeling that somehow I am invisible.  Whilst it became a bit of a joke, it also got me thinking about what might make one invisible to others. Is it when we get to a certain age? Is it when we become grey-haired? Is it my svelte like figure that makes me disappear when I turn sideways?

I returned to the question of invisibility after my husband offered and was accepted to help a wheelchair user to exit a fete up a steep hill where his mates were waiting, only to get to the exit and be told 'the gate at the bottom of the hill is easier' - addressed to him and not of course to the man trying to get out.

How often do we ignore the child in the pushchair, the wheelchair user and address the helper, be they person or guide dog? What makes us look over people? Is it embarrassment, fear, indifference or just plain ignorance?

The concept of asset based communities means we don't see the deficit but the person - we acknowledge their needs and wants but also what they contribute to a society.  But how do we change people's perceptions so that this becomes an automatic response?  How do we ensure that our physical or health situation allows us to develop as individuals and does not hide us away and make us, as people, invisible to others?

Throughout our lives we come into contact with individuals in our work and private lives and for me as a friend, a colleague and a professional, it has always been important to have a greater understanding of each person I come into contact with. I like to know a bit about their personal and professional lives so that we have points of reference to talk about when we meet as well as understand the connections we may share.  These connections may be people, but more often they are interests or values that help us build meaningful relationships.

When I started in my working life it was in the commercial world and I noticed that the most successful professionals were not those with the highest qualifications but those who could have a rapport with others. Clients often asked for particular people with who they and their staff felt comfortable and even once asked us to remove someone who had a first class honours degree but no social chat!

When I moved into the arena of care, confidentiality and boundaries were seen by many as so sacrosanct that many 'professionals' knew everything about their clients but were adamant that their clients should know nothing about them. My approach has always been a gut instinct that I could do my job better by building mutual relationships and long before the asset based approach was put into words have tried to see people, especially those coming with an identified need, as having something to give to themselves and others.  Having done group work for many years this approach to support taught me the power of the group setting or more particularly the power that emerges from a group of individuals when they each share their knowledge and support each other.

More recently I have been a patient and the best care I have had, whether from a consultant, a nurse, a porter or a volunteer has been when they have been interested in me and recognised my strengths and interests. It led to me being the subject of fifth year medical students' assessments, giving my thoughts on how volunteering could be better and informally taking part in self help groups with other patients when visiting time was either slow or over. Most importantly it made me feel I had a value.

Although not a formal volunteer - no registration or induction - it reinforced to me that community engagement takes many forms. It may be as a volunteer but always it will be as a community member (however we define that community) who has valuable assets even at times when we have needs of our own. 

Ralph Ellison's quote which I began with is qualified by him when he adds 'I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, of substance and liquids, I may even be said to have a mind.'

When we employ community engagement in its best form we go some way to ensuring none of us become invisible.