The Importance of Seeing Yourself

Early on, I wrote about the need to balance windows and mirrors in our lives. An important anti-bias framework suggests the importance of “mirrors” and the need for people to see themselves reflected in the world around them. Equally important is the need for “windows” and opportunities for people to gaze outside their own world, to see and learn about other people’s realities.

Minority groups are less likely to see mirrors and more likely to see windows. The windows they see are often focused on the majority group and this imbalance can hurt one’s sense of self-worth and confidence. It’s easy to feel invisible if you don’t have mirrors around you, whether you are a person of color, a woman, someone who identifies as GLBTQ, or a person with a disability.

For the past 20 years, the White House has hosted an iftar dinner to commemorate the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. But this year, there was no iftar dinner at the White House. Despite the fact that Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama hosted this celebratory dinner over the years, it didn’t happen this year. The holiday and the religious tradition were ignored. Invisible. Not seen. Imagine how that would feel if you were Muslim. No mirror for you this year.

Now, compare that to a couple of news stories that caught my attention in late May of 2017. There was a heart-warming story about a high school that included a picture of a student and his service dog in the school yearbook. Andrew “AJ” Schalk has Type 1 diabetes and he goes to school every day with his service dog, Alpha. Rather than ignore AJ’s unique health condition, the school decided to recognize and honor his important life-saving partnership by including an adorable school photo of Alpha. (Click here to read more.)

The same week, a photo appeared with the spouses of political leaders during the NATO summit in Brussels. The photo included 9 women and 1 man. The man is married to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who is gay. Although heterosexual men have been included in this group of spouses before, this picture was unique because it featured a gay spouse. (Click here to read more.)

These last two examples feature people who are often invisible. Imagine what it would feel like if you were a young person who is gay or who has a service dog. These stories are mirrors. They provide connections. They provide a message that you matter. Your story matters. You are not alone. We see you.

These two stories also serve as windows. They remind us that some people rely on service animals to make it through their day. They remind us that not everyone is straight. They remind us that we all have differences and that’s perfectly okay. It’s normal. These are equally important messages.

So once again, I urge you to reflect on the messages your children receive. Are there enough mirrors? Too many? What about windows? Can there ever be enough?