There’s an irony that shadow can only exist where there is light.
Worth reflecting on, if you have a sense of shadow in any part of your life. Where is the light?
Have you ever noticed that dusk brings a particular behaviour for a short period?
During the day, we exist in our offices or our houses, with curtains wide open, blinds pulled up, shutters flung back. The light inside and outside in balance somehow, we seem open to the notion that people might look in, might see us. And that’s ok. There’s a form of equilibrium. Equality of visibility in this balanced light.
Then dusk arrives. We turn on lights inside our homes and offices. But we leave curtains and blinds wide open. The result is the light is stronger inside than outside and people can see in. See us more clearly. We are silhouetted in the artificial lights. More visible. More exposed. So people look, sometimes stare.
Then we draw the curtains, drop the blinds, turn the light off maybe. In essence we hide. Perhaps too exposed now, we retreat, away from prying eyes. And so it stays, until dawn, when we throw open the window ‘shields’ and allow natural light to flood in, safe in the knowledge that we can be seen again, but not clearly seen, not highlighted, not in the spotlight.
And so the pattern repeats.
Maybe it’s like that in life?
Happy to be seen when we blend in, when the light of others equates to our own light? Maybe though when we are in the spotlight, highlighted, more visible, we seek to hide? We set out to draw a veil over ourselves, to become more private, more introverted? We quite literally pull down the shutters.
Shine your light.
Hold lightly the sight of others in the soft light.
I have just been signposted to the Government’s stay safe advice in the threat of armed terrorist attack.
In a nutshell, run, hide, tell.
Run away, if that option exists without risking further danger to yourself
Hide somewhere if you can’t run
Tell someone official where the threat is
I don’t seek to disparage what might be necessary advice to keep me and others safe, but I was immediately transported back to the age of six.
I was in a field at the back of my house playing hide and seek with some friends. As the seeker I held my hands over my eyes whilst my playmates ran to their hastily identified hiding place. Like most six year olds, I peeked through my fingers. Only peeked mind, because if they could see my eyes they would know I was looking. My friends ran, randomly. No plan of where to hide, just run away from the seeker as quickly as possible and then, once a safe distance away, look for somewhere safe to hide. As seeker we would prowl the area, hastily darting between the same places they hid last time and the time before. Always looking for a shoddily concealed arm, or a careless toe, peeking out from the impromptu hiding place. Then we would tell. Shout out where they were, or run back ‘home’ to declare them found.
I was struck by the transportation of those skills the child in us takes into adulthood.
Running. Running from difficulty. From inner truths. From facing ourselves. Running from others. From uncomfortable situations. Running from feelings. From inner voices. From fears.
Hiding. Assuming that if I don’t look at you, you can’t see me. We do this all the time. Not literally. Not peeking through slitted fingers. But not showing our true selves, for fear of being truly seen.
Telling. Seeing a part of someone, like the carelessly exposed arm or toe from the child’s game, but as adults seeing one action, one behaviour, one socio-economic or cultural badge, one gender or sexual preference and ‘telling’ others who that person is or where they are hiding. Judging. Exposing them.
Run, Hide, Tell.
Safety in the face of terrorism.
Safety in the very humanness of our humanity.
Now, before you raise your eyebrows or quietly tut in that knowing way, or maybe steel yourself to slap me on the back and declare ‘well done that man!’… I should let you know it’s only the ‘Brief Introduction to the Theory of Human Ecology’, a mere 112 pages.
There are many interesting concepts therein – I confess to liking a concept more than a theory – so I thought I’d share this one…
As we know Abraham Maslow first documented the most basic of human needs is to be safe; we know that experiencing being unsafe or afraid can leave long standing memories in us. One of the concepts discussed in this paper is the idea of having a ‘front stage’ and a ‘back stage’ as one way in which we can manage personal risk and keep ourselves safe.
Our ‘front stage’ is the version of ourselves we show to the world. We develop it to gain acceptance and to belong, to retain the audience’s interest and maybe even get a round of applause sometimes, or at least a polite clap.
Our ‘back stage’ is the bit of ourselves we keep hidden away – it’s where we do our rehearsals, our script writing and where we keep our costumes and props. We don’t tend to let the audience backstage – only those we really trust.
By developing a front stage and a back stage we keep ourselves safe in an inherently unsafe world. It allows us to show the world what we believe we need to, in order to be accepted, affirmed, welcomed in. Meanwhile that part which we need to protect – our vulnerability – we keep hidden away from harm.
A nice theatrical metaphor…?
I am the unnoticed, the unnoticeable man;
The man who sat on your right in the morning train
The man who looked through like a windowpane
The man who was the colour of the carriage, the colour of the mounting
morning pipe smoke.
I am the man too busy with a living to live
Too hurried and worried to see and smell and touch
The man who is patient too long and obeys too much
And wishes too softly and seldom.
I am the man they call the nation’s backbone,
Who am boneless – playable catgut, pliable clay
The Man they label Little, lest one day
I dare to grow.
I am the rails on which the moment passes,
The megaphone for many words and voices
I am the graph diagram,
I am the led, the easily-fed,
The tool, the not-quite-fool,
The uncomplaining, bound,
The dust fine-ground,
Stone-for-a-statue, wave worn pebble-round