Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand, blog #1.
The beginning of relationship is recognition of the other.
There is a sense, when we have heard of someone else through a friend, of anticipation, so that when meeting that person in real life, we find an element of joy in recognizing someone.
I have seen this happen twice in the past 24 hours. First, M____ S_____ was introduced to me, and he said, “OH! You’re THE Adam Fleming!”
“The one and only,” I replied, feeling quite like Winnie the Pooh when Christopher Robin recognizes his endeavors. It’s a good feeling to be recognized.
This morning, I introduced my wife to an artist who hosted me in her home during my trip to Thailand last year. Megan gave her the same royal treatment. “Oh! You’re A____ P____! Can I give you a hug?”
It occurs to me now that there are various levels of recognition. I’ve blogged about artist John Koenig’s work on the concept of sonder recently, which is the experience of recognizing that each passerby has a life as intricate and complex as our own. Sonder brings us only to the beginning of recognition. Sonder is to notice those around you in a new way. Noticing is okay.
The desire for Recognition is one of sixteen core desires that Tony Stoltzfus identifies as key elements God has baked into each of us. But there are many different levels on which we can be recognized.
Sonder is the beginning, and the next level I’ll call “lineup recognition”. On the plane to Thailand I watched a mobster movie. At one point the loose cannon character walks into a bar and shoots someone in the head. Later, he’s in a police lineup and the barmaid is brought in to identify him. She’s been intimidated, however, and tells the police, “no, none of these guys is the one.” The lineup is one aspect of recognition. We either acknowledge or deny we can attach a face to a name, or a face (in the mobster’s case) to an action.
Another place I see this in action is at my local coffee shop. One of the regulars, a man who was my landlord for a few months back in my college days, his name is Joe, came up to me a few weeks ago and said “are you Frank, the guy from Plymouth?” He was meeting someone he’d never met before. I said, “No…” and then Joe looked at me closer. “Oh, yeah, I know you,” he said, disinterest washing over his face. Yes, he recognized my face, we’re both in that coffee shop all the time. I don’t know if Joe even remembers my name, but once he looked closer he knew I couldn’t be Frank.
When we hunger for recognition, this is not the sort of encounter we hope for.
We’re much more attuned to the definition of recognition that means a celebration. This form of recognition says “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or just, “well done.” Some of us are attracted to trophies (If we as humans in general weren’t, we wouldn’t bother to make and award them to each other). Others of us would just as soon have a bonus, usually at work this is how we reward value, and trophies can ring hollow. Then there’s the recognition we are given when we don’t really deserve it. That can also ring hollow. So what about recognition from God? Do we ever really deserve it? Like children who draw drawings to be hung upon the fridge, we all (some of us more, and some less) hope that we will be rewarded with a recognition particularly when we’ve put heart and soul into a project.
Here we prepare art for a conference today. I assembled sixteen drawings on a 4×8 board for Jonathan Reuel, who drew them but was not able to come. Ben, who is leading the arts team, said to me, “good work,” when I finished, and I said, “No problem, it was easy.” Jonathan did the hard work of making all the drawings, and on top of that he had to include careful instructions for how to assemble his work, but all I really did was tape drawings to a plywood board. It’s funny, when Ben said “good job” to me, I still felt kinda good about it.
(Photo above: Jonathan Reuel’s work assembled in foreground as Ann Metz works in mixed media.)
So as we begin this conference, we begin by recognizing each other: the names we’ve only associated through pictures, or friends, or the internet, people we’re excited to finally meet as well as the recognition of old friends walking through the door. Soon our friends Jerimae and Karen will arrive, and I’m excited to see them. But I also was welcomed by the leader of the organization which hosts this conference this morning. “Adam and Megan Fleming,” he said, “I’m so glad you could come. I’m sure we’ll talk more later, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re here.” That would have been so easy for him NOT to do. But this is a key leadership principle: you have to recognize people. You have to acknowledge sonder, you have to pick people out of a lineup, you have to rejoice in meeting people you’ve only heard tell of, you have to even more rejoice in the successes of others around you. Do this, and you’re on the way to leading.
This isn’t to say that you’ll ever fill the desire for recognition the way Jesus does, but you can stand in for Him when the chips are down.
We have asked our children to look for a few things as we’re gone. In a way, this gives them something to tell us about their day other than “fine” but it also gives us something to notice, recognize and celebrate. We’ve asked them to collect Sayings and Successes. We told them they can notice them about each other and remind each other about them when they Skype with us.
The ascending beatitudes of Recognition: Notice, and you will be noticed. Recognize, and you shall be recognized. Celebrate, and you will be celebrated.