Success & Abundance
I See You!
Are you also looking at me?
Published: July 26, 2011
Four steps to authentic communication.
At my seminars I often ask people to join in a greeting shared by the Zulu people of South Africa. The greeting is an invocation spoken in two parts. One part is Sikhona, which means “I am here to be seen”; and the other part is Sawubona, which means “I see you.” I usually demonstrate the greeting onstage with a volunteer. We stand facing each other, look deep into each other’s eyes, and then I say, “I am here to be seen,” and the volunteer replies, “I see you.” Next, the volunteer says, “I am here to be seen,” and I reply, “I see you.”
I invite my audiences to greet at least ten people with “I am here to be seen” and “I see you.” I encourage them to use no other words during the greeting. I also recommend that they say the words slowly and that they notice their internal response to the words. In particular, I want them to feel the intention behind the words they say. Imagine greeting your family, your colleagues, and your friends with the conscious intention to see each other. Can you feel the power of this greeting? Think what effect it would have to greet everyone you know with this conscious intention.
After the group has finished greeting each other with “I am here to be seen” and “I see you,” they return to their seats and we then take time for feedback and discussion. To appreciate the power of this Zulu invocation, it is helpful to look at it in four parts. First, it begins with two people looking deep into each other’s eyes. This is powerful by itself. An uncommon depth of connection is established without any words. Eye contact is akin to soul contact. This sense of oneness always inspires better communication.
Second, the Zulu people believe that when a person says “I am here to be seen,” it invokes the person’s spirit to be present. Saying “I am here” is a declaration of intent to fully inhabit this moment. It signals a willingness to engage with integrity. Saying “to be seen” emphasizes “no masks,” “no editing,” and “no defenses.” It means “This is the real me” and “I will speak my truth.” It means “I will be honest with you,” and there will be no deception.
Third, “I see you” is a powerful experience both for the person who says it and for the person who hears it. According to the Zulu tradition, to say “I see you” offers an intention to release any preconceptions and judgments so that “I can see you as God created you.” To hear “I see you” is an affirmation that you do exist, that you are both equal, and that you have a person’s respect. Many people say this is the most moving part of the greeting. Some say it strengthens their resolve to be more authentic and visible in their life.
Fourth, this greeting represents the Zulu philosophy of ubuntu, which translates roughly as “humanity toward all.” Ubuntu is a spiritual ethic that advocates mutual support for “bringing each other into existence.” To practice ubuntu is to help your brothers and sisters remember their true identity, recognize their true value, and participate fully. Ubuntu teaches that our purpose is to be a true friend to one another. Through ubuntu we bring out the best in ourselves and others—it is a training in true leadership.
I have taught this Zulu greeting at conferences with presidents, ambassadors, and heads of state saying to each other “I am here to be seen” and “I see you.” The dialogue that follows is always more defenseless and more powerful. I have taught this greeting to actors, singers, musicians, and dancers to help them be less performers and more true artists. I have shared this greeting with cancer patients, at AA meetings, in prisons, at churches, and so on. I have also used it in family therapy, with husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, and brothers and sisters.
To be successful in life, work, and relationships, you have to do one thing first—you have to show up. In other words, you have to be willing to show the world who you are and what you believe in. And you have to keep showing up in spite of the setbacks and the heartbreaks. The temptation to edit yourself and to hide will only leave you feeling dead inside. “One’s real life is so often the life one does not lead,” said Oscar Wilde. Yet the more authentic you are, the more true success you will enjoy and the more alive you will feel.
Robert Holden, Ph.D., is the Director of The Happiness Project and Success Intelligence. Robert coaches leaders in business, education, politics and healthcare.