Bearing witness and being seen
They did this experiment at the University of Guelph. What they found was that “These conversations weren’t just connecting people—they were changing people. What began as a pair of apprehensive strangers awkwardly lowering themselves into a ball pit in the middle of campus transformed into dozens of students forming conversation circles in and around the overflowing ball pit all afternoon, rich with fervent hand gestures, engaged body language, and vibrant facial expressions.” One of the conclusions they made was “It is only when we view our fellow students through a lens of understanding, regardless of our religious traditions, cultural heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and beliefs, that we can truly see one another. When we can truly see one another, we seem to like what we see.”
I see the Ball Pit experiment as an intentional way of connecting people in meaningful ways. These people weren’t engaging in small talk, but rather in “smart talk” – speaking about things and in ways that foster connection.
It’s also about “being seen”. In her blog post this week, “Cool Ashes Can’t Burn Us”, Glennon Doyle Melton spoke to this very thing: “what strikes me is how desperately we all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don’t need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we’ve faced and overcome. To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don’t need a magician to take it all away – we just need a witness.” “We see ourselves in [each other]. And that means that we are not alone. We might hurt, but we are not alone.”
To me, this is one of the most awesome things about being a part of the body of Christ: we are not alone. Bearing witness is one of the most powerful things we can do for another person. Oh, that we would learn better how to “see” each other (and allow ourselves to be “seen”).