The difference between looking and seeing

I was in my mid-thirties before I learned to appreciate art. Growing up, I thought art was just about looking at something beautiful and appreciating that beauty. But, in my thirties, I learned art is more than that. It’s meant to move people. It’s meant to stir emotion. Art isn’t meant to just be looked at; it’s meant to be seen.

Looking seeks to perceive. Seeing perceives. You might look for a police officer with a speed gun, but seeing one impacts your behavior.

In the same way, people don’t want to be looked at; they want to be seen. Looking considers a person’s situation, seeing empathizes with it. Looking at someone experiencing homelessness and quickly looking away doesn’t help that person. But seeing a person experiencing homelessness is different. When you see them, you recognize they are a person, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, or a beloved child. You see them and empathize with the hardship that put them in that situation. And that empathy turns into action, even if that action is a simple nod to let them know you have indeed seen them, that they aren’t invisible.

People want to be seen and understood, not just looked at. Just like art is deeper than my first experience of it, so are most people; we just have to be willing to see them.

Looking considers action; seeing demands it.

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