When you are with another person and are having some negative feelings or thoughts, notice the connection these reactions have with some kind of relatively external consideration (the way a fish in an aquarium makes it hard for you to see through to the other side). Say to yourself “I am not seeing the person, I am just seeing a fish – their fish or my fish.” Let the fish swim away and see if you can get a truer picture of the person. Notice any changes in your thoughts or feelings.
It is shocking to learn of a person being confronted by the police apparently just because of the color of their skin. It is even more horrifying to learn of incidents where an innocent person was killed by the police in a way the suggests that snap judgments were made about the victim and the victim’s intentions.
And we are all subject to what has been called “racial profiling.” We automatically make judgments about others based on their appearance.
If we saw people clearly we might have different feelings about them. But this is hard to do. When we look at someone else we get impressions from their outward appearance, the way they do their hair, their skin color, size, facial expression, gender, and the way they move in space. In our heads we are putting all these together to come up with opinions about them.
I like the image of the fish tank. We are on one side of the tank, the other person is on the other. We are seeing them through two layers of glass, and the water in the tank. Besides, as we look at them fish might be swimming back and forth, obstructing our view. And what are these fish? Some of them are these external appearances like the other person’s racial make-up, facial expressions and behavior. They include the way they dress, fix their hair and adorn their bodies.
Some of the fish in the tank are of our own making, our life-experiences, our prejudices, our racial history.
Given this combination of distractions, it is amazing that we can see another person clearly at all.
The task this week begins with upset. When you are interacting with another person and find yourself having negative thoughts or feelings, that is when you are invited to do the task. And the task is very simple. Say to yourself: “I am not really seeing this other person, I am just seeing fish, their fish, or my fish.” Do what you can to look past those external things to see the person more clearly, and notice any changes in your feelings or thoughts.