What Does Your Heart See?

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”  Anais Nin

“He’s ugly!” she said with a frown and a squirm from her seat. The room went silent. There were a  few shy giggles from some of the younger children who I could tell were suddenly assessing their opinion of the face of the man in the picture I was holding up as I told a story of him.

I was shocked, not because I wasn’t used to hearing about “ugly”, but because I knew I had to say something. It was one of those moments. And there are some things that I don’t do. Shaming a child is one of them. But, I was taken aback by the severe comment.

“I think he’s very handsome,” I blurted out without thinking. “Look at his eyes, and how calm his face is. He glows!”

She wasn’t sold on the “handsome,” and shook her head vehemently. “No. He’s ugly.”

The man in the picture who lived back in the early 1800’s didn’t need my defending. He was handsome and that was all there was to it. But the children were collectively holding their breath, waiting to see who would win the war of ugly that was unfolding before their eyes. I said, looking straight into her eyes, as kindly as I could, “We see with our hearts.”

She squirmed again, and I could see her trying to understand what I’d said. To help her a bit I continued, “He looks stiff and uncomfortable, doesn’t he?” We talked briefly about picture-taking back then and how still a person had to be to have their picture taken.

“Maybe it’s just his hair.” So we joked about hairstyles in the 1800’s and agreed we like ours better.

I could see her heart softening to possibilities of beauty.

Neither of us “won” the perception “war”, but I knew we’d made progress. There had been a teaching moment for both of us. I needed to be the champion of beauty – the one who valued the soul of the person while giving place to the influence of a person’s life’s circumstances.  She needed to cultivate the ability to see beyond what her eyes were telling her while at the same time trusting her gut that she saw something that made her uncomfortable.

Last week my two little boys, Kenney and James, sat next to me for over an hour watching a National Geographic documentary on China’s Elephant Man.


They were mesmerized and scared at first by the face of Huang Chuncai. But they watched my reaction to the images and the heart-breaking story, and slowly saw him the way I saw him: he was a beautiful little boy (now a man) whose face and life were transformed, altered, and challenged by a huge tumor, who still needed friends, wanted to play, and was deeply appreciated by his family who treated him like the rest of the family even though he needed special care and attention. He was no longer grotesque and scary to my boys. I think they would have played with him if they had a chance. It just took being introduced to other possibilities in perception for them to make the shift.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and a story for you to contemplate as I will, too:

When I struggle, do you see my weakness or my strength?

When I produce something less than perfect, do you see success or failure?

When I speak, do you listen for my ignorance or my insights?

We can tell a lot about the state of our hearts and our perceptions of others with questions like these.

Here’s a story I found that goes a little deeper:

An old man sat outside the walls of a great city. When travelers approached they would ask the old man: “What kind of people live in this city?” And the old man would answer: “What kind of people lived in the place where you came from?” If the travelers answered: “Only bad people lived in the place where we came from.” Then the old man would reply: “Continue on, you will find only bad people here.” But if the travelers answered: “Only good people lived in the place where we have come from.” Then the old man would say: “Enter, for here, too, you will find only good people.” Noah benShae, The Word, Jewish Wisdom Through Time

I hope we will want to train our hearts every day to ignore the darkness that the world paints over, through, and around the intrinsic beauty that’s always right in front of us.


8 thoughts on “What Does Your Heart See?

  1. I think I must always see with my heart..I tend to see and find the best in whatever I look at be it people or situations.. It would be a sad life to always see the negative.

    As Always ~*~

    • You ARE kind, Ann! You do tend towards the positive. I see that. You know what’s fascinating to me? Since I started using social media, my eyes have been opened at how being very visually oriented really got in the way of “seeing” people’s true nature. Communicating via text (blogs, Facebook, email) has helped me to develop a different sense of people. Does that make sense? Anyways, I’m a completely different person now compared to 3 years ago, and I can’t believe how much I relied on visual cues to tell me about a person (that’s sort of important, too – the visual / gut reaction to someone’s countenance, and it has value and a place, but NOT a dominant one!).
      Thanks for coming by, Ann! LOVE YA!

    • Melanie! Hi! I watch the hunger in children’s eyes…hunger for permission to say “otherwise” That when a peer says something derogatory about someone they have permission to say that they feel differently. All it takes is one strong child with conviction to start the eye/soul-opening ripple in the rest. It doesn’t always happen for all of them, but even if it’s only for ONE, that’s a success. ‘Cause that ONE will go home with a new thought and it just might expand to TWO, etc. Right? That’s where leadership is born. In those small moments!

  2. This lesson in superficiality is one I teach my child every day. As I drove her to school, I said again, “your heart is right there shining through; I know it’s hard to remember to live with your heart at school, but remind yourself of this.”

    The beauty thing? We’re going to lose that battle every day; our children are programmed. But, we have to try.

    • Hi, Jayme! I know! All I can do is teach my children what a difference a smile makes, and when they see someone who looks “dar” take into consideration that there is always a background story that is IMPOSSIBLE to judge. You can discern it, but the sole resposiblity of ours is to support and to succor.

  3. I just saw a news piece on a scientific study demonstrating that children judge fat people to have more negative characteristics. That’s why we need more people like you who are setting an example for others. I know I have a hard time seeing with my heart too because my eyes produce such automatic reactions. Yoga and meditation have helped me slow down a bit and see with my heart as you describe. In fact, it’s in yoga where I experience moments that I’m able to “see my strength in struggle” and “see failure when I produce something less than perfect.” Thanks for reminding me how important this is, not only for ourselves but for passing these values onto others in our lives.

    • Thank YOU, Samantha! I wonder if any of us will ever have this mastered? A very important key for me, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, has been the Internet. It has helped me feel first and see with my eyes second.
      Thank you for staying connected to me!!

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