My girls and I were watching one of their favorite TV shows, The Miraculous Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
For those who do not know this show – it is a story of two young superheroes who, among other things, have formed a “love square” with each other. The two heroes don’t know each other’s identities and the girl loves the boy in his ‘mild-mannered’ form, whereas the boy loves the girl in her superhero form. As the episodes progress, more and more hints drop and yet they are relentlessly persistent in not realizing each other’s identities.
We were watching an episode that was particularly obvious (the truth of their identity literally right in front of the characters), and still… nothing. My seven-year-old throws up her hands, turns to me, and says.
“Mommy, why aren’t they noticing?”
“Good question, why do you think?”
“I don’t know – It’s right there!” she says, pointing furiously at the TV.
“Clearly they are not paying attention to each other. What are they paying attention to that they would miss something so obvious?”
My daughter thinks for a moment, then her eyes grow wide, “Themselves!”
She was right. The two characters were so worried about themselves and what others would see, they never looked at the other, and they missed something very obvious and very important.
Distracted by ourselves
Unfortunately, this habit is not limited to teenage superhero characters in TV shows. For example, how often are you in a meeting contemplating what you are going to say next, or worried someone will judge you poorly if you say something, or if anyone notices that stain on your shirt? How many times have you missed very important things that others say or do because you are too busy thinking of how others will perceive you?
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s no wonder we are much more comfortable with others like ourselves, we spend far too much time thinking about ourselves. Consider how much more we would all know about each other if we stopped worrying what we would say next or what others thought of us, and instead paid attention to others.
Change agents for inclusion pay attention
An important step for creating inclusive environments is to understand and embrace everyone, including those who are not like you. The good news is this is really easy – all you have to do is pay attention.
The next time you are interacting with anyone (whether at lunch, a meeting, a chat around the water cooler, etc.) consciously try not to worry about what you are going to say next or how your words are being perceived, and instead pay attention to the others. See if you can pick out one thing you didn’t know about them before that gives you a deeper understanding of who they are.
As for our young superheroes, perhaps there is hope for them, after all there are at least two more seasons left in the series. And at the very least, they helped my daughter recognize the power of paying attention to others.