Friday, May 25, 2018

Regard – Part I (The Gift of Presence)

***This is the first in a series of posts about the concept of regard. I'm not sure how many parts the series is going to have, probably four or five and possibly more. I will tag each of them with #regard, so if you click on that label in the right-hand column of my blog it should pull up all of the posts in the series (all that have been written and posted so far, that is).*** 

This post is dedicated with gratitude to Frank, Momo, Trevor and my Mom.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

I have been thinking lately about the concept of "regard".

It's a word that I use often, but I have to admit that I had not given much thought to what it means. "Best regards," I often write in work emails; sometimes "Kindest regards" or "Warm regards" to friends and extended family members; or just plain "Regards" when I'm stumped for a closing salutation.

Then, I had an experience this past winter that brought my attention to thinking about regard and what it means in new and different ways. 

I have a friend named Frank, who lives in the States. He and I don't know each other particularly well – we met briefly when he was travelling in Nova Scotia a few years ago. He's a storyteller and a thinker and we meet up (virtually) by times in the realm of words, as storytellers and thinkers tend to do. 

Frank often reads my blog. And this past fall, he sent me a gift – an email which said, in essence: I see what you are doing over there. And I feel connected with it.

Frank saw me. 
And he told me that he saw me.
And I took that in. 
And it got me thinking.

Now, it's not that no one has ever seen me before, or never told me they saw me. And it's not that I've never taken it in before. In the past, I've even given some thought to the experiences of seeing, of being seen and my relationship with those experiences. But a new train of thought got sparked by Frank's email and has been bubbling away in my brain ever since (if you love mixed metaphors – you're welcome).

What does it mean to be seen?

This is the definition Google gives for regard:

Click here to visit this link for a larger, more readable version.

Check out the etymology from Old French. Regard basically has its origin in this idea: I've got your back. 

Regard is more than being seen. It is mattering to someone else. It is about meaning and connection; care and attention. Frank's email got me thinking in new ways about what it means to me to be seen and also to feel seen.

I didn't develop the habit of feeling seen when I was growing up. I was a latch-key kid. My busy parents separated when I was seven years old and then divorced. From there, I continued growing up in a family with more parents and step-parents than I knew what to do with. Each person was coping with a lot; I felt like I often disappeared in the midst everything that was going on. And frankly, a lot of the time, I felt pretty lucky if I was able to stay under the radar. I preferred to keep my head down, trying to avoid both conflict and disappointment.

Unfortunately, growing up in that environment trained me to notice people who were absent or pre-occupied more than people who were present and paying attention.

As I moved into adulthood, I became someone who noticed the people who sent their regrets more than the people who showed me their regard.

My approach to regard was twisted.

The people who didn't give a hoot about me often felt more important than the people who had my back.

I was better able to see the people who couldn't see me and less able to see the people who could.

I am just now beginning to understand the impact this kink in my personality has had on my life so far.

I could still spend days, maybe even weeks, running down the long list of the moments I can remember when I felt people didn't show up for me, whatever their reasons, and how I felt about it. I could talk about the amount of time and energy I have spent focusing on people who didn't give a damn about me – hustling for worthiness, as Brené Brown would say.

Husbanding those grievances is a familiar and well-worn strategy. But that way of looking at my story is losing its appeal.

What is becoming more interesting to me is this new lens that I'm developing, a new understanding, a new way of experiencing and valuing being seen. And along with that, I hope, new ways of seeing others.

Let me tell you a story.

Re-framing regard

In 2015, I did a 52-song project on YouTube. Once a week, I posted an original, previously unrecorded song. There were a few people who viewed every (or almost every) single song and often commented on them. All year long.

I was having a tough year, struggling with depression and a broken heart. That song project felt very vulnerable to me most of the time. Sometimes excruciatingly so. And it was also a lifeline, something that kept me reaching out week after week, to connect even when trying to connect felt agonizing or unlikely or pointless. And every week, those few stalwart people gave me the gift of seeing me. Some of the videos in that project got eight views each in their first week.* And I know who at least three of those eight people were, because they granted me the gift of saying: I see what you are doing over there. And I feel connected with it.

While the project was going on, I admit that I frequently struggled to feel seen. I mostly couldn't take it in. When a video got only eight views I would take it as a sign that I shouldn't bother, instead of realizing that those eight views, and – most of all – the one or three or five comments and acknowledgments were the most precious part of the whole process. And that I would be far better off focussing on them rather than on the people who couldn't or wouldn't see me or who wouldn't or couldn't acknowledge that they did.

The people who could see me were the ones I needed to take in. They were saying with their constancy and their encouragement:

I see what you are doing over there, and I feel connected with it.

I struggled to understand this at the time, but now I see more clearly.

I was being given mighty gifts of connection, of constancy, of love, of regard.

Those connections were pointing me in a direction where I need to explore and grow.

And now that I'm finally getting closer to where I need to be, I feel profoundly grateful.

Thank you.

I am really, really, REALLY taking our connections into my heart.


(Better late than never, eh?)

I'd love to hear in the comments your thoughts and feelings about the experience of being seen and/or seeing others. 


  1. Dear Alex, this has moved my mind and my heart deeply. Thank you for the many gifts you have given me, this one the latest, gifts of your seeing, and insights about your seeing, through music, words, and shared precious time. Fondest, most loving regards, Mom

    1. Thank you, Mom. From the bottom of my heart. For everything, especially all of our growth. Loving regards ;), Alex xoxo

  2. Was it all the way back in 2015? Wow!
    I loved your 52-song project, and sometimes if you see those view numbers creep up to this day, it might just be me returning for another listen. I love this new perspective on the project, and on the notion of seeing and being seen. Thank you for your thoughts - they help me to see more clearly too!

    1. Thank you, Momo. It meant the world to me that you gave so much love to my song project and I love how your comments are there on YouTube for me any time I need to be reminded. (Interesting factoid, YouTube only counts "unique" views – I think by IP address). I'm looking forward to hearing your take on future posts in this series. xoxo, A.