When You Look at Me Who Do You See?

Connecting the movie A History of Violence and the Verdi opera Aida

When I pass you in the corridors in the office or stand silently beside you in the elevator and you look at me, who do you see?

  • The agile program manager?
  • Piper, my alter ego during one partying week in Naples, Florida years ago?
  • The mother who almost lost both daughters to life threatening illnesses?
  • The hospice nurse setting up morphine drips to ease the suffering of cancer patients in their last days?
  • The reader devoted to the classics of Western literature – Homer and Virgil, Chaucer and Shakespeare, James and Dickens, overflowing my bookcases.
  • The undergraduate poring over Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu to learn advanced French grammar?
  • The (one time) marathon runner?
  • The descendant of Welsh maternal ancestors.

Who do you see?

When I look at you who do I see?

  • A project manager
  • A desktop support rep
  • An engineer
  • A manager
  • A cleaning lady

I fear I do not really know the richness of what lies within the men and women I interact with day by day.  And they don’t know me.

The connection between the movie A History of Violence and the Verdi opera Aida, is that the protagonists Tom Stall and Aida were not known completely, even by the people who were closest to them.   Tom Stall, the Midwestern family man and diner owner, had been a young and violent mobster in Philadelphia. Aida, the slave girl to an Egyptian princess, had herself been an Ethiopian princess.


Tom and Aida deliberately concealed who they were.  But even without trying to hide, we are hidden.

Out of busyness or self-absorption or fear we don’t try to know the fascinating variety of experiences and thoughts and feelings within each other. And yet most of us want to be known.  I want to be known.

Friendliness, curiosity, empathy, vulnerability, openness – these are the stances that will help us know and be known by these most interesting people around us.  Shut off the pre-set categories in our own heads and explore the mind and manners of others.  And conversely, let yourself be known as a person.  Forget about the role you are taught to play, especially as a manager and become known as a person to your team.  It’s one of the biggest facilitators of engagement at work.

Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

I say, even more importantly – somewhere, someone incredible is waiting to be known.


Next time I’ll explore what’s to be found in the connection between the word “time” and the novel Madame Bovary.

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One Response to When You Look at Me Who Do You See?

  1. Carol moran says:

    So much food for thought. I love the way your mind works, so different from mine and so admired. I would like to think that as we age and become wiser we see others more purely and better allow ourselves to be seen more authentically, the masks come off,
    the fears unfounded, aah! Thank you for the insight!

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