Being seen involves having your existence acknowledged and, thus, validated by another person.
Despite common thinking, Narcissus’ story is not at about arrogance, conceit, and self love. Had Narcissus known he was gazing at himself and, with that knowledge, pined away in fascination at his own beauty, we would have a mythological depiction of conceit. But Narcissus did not know he was looking at himself. He was not aware. He thought he was gazing at someone else. ”In his ignorance, he covets himself… He knows not what he sees,” Ovid writes of him in Metamorphoses.
Narcissus becomes entangled in a shadow of reality that continuously dissolves in his hands as he loses his ability to engage with the flesh, thrust, and ferment of real life.
It is this dynamic of blindness and disconnection that is at play whenever we encounter someone imposing their twisted internal tragedy of Narcissus by projecting their shadow upon us. It is an act of negating, of not seeing that inflicts trauma–pain that radiates outward from that point of negative convergence into the depths of the psyche, life, relationships, and community.
This is the nature of the damage caused by implicit bias, which is the fruit of a narcissistic neurosis. It involves the inability or unwillingness of a person or community to see and thus validate and acknowledge the existence of those they’ve the intellectual and emotional inability to see.
When they look in the direction of those they negate they see a projection of their inner biases rather than the actuality of the person they are looking at and not seeing.
A path to healing the trauma inflicted by this act of intellectual and emotional violence is to be witnessed, seen, validated, and acknowledged. This is the path articulated by Restorative and Holistic Justice.
But the matter is complicated when the blindness and shadow projection are systemic and when the refusal to see is structural. The trauma inflicted then transcends the personal and becomes political. It transcends being a one to one personal matter and becomes a community matter. It becomes a trauma inflicted by a power structure upon an entire community.
The communal path to healing demand that those who inflict the trauma have courage enough to let go of their fear and defensiveness and consciously choose to ‘see’ those wounded by the trauma. They must be strong enough to ‘see’, to acknowledge and validate those condemned to the shadow.