This essay analyzes the meaning and symbolism of the image “Invisible”. The scene appears to be in a neighborhood just outside of a gated complex. We see a general store in the foreground with various goods for sale. We also see, opposite from the store, a makeshift bed with a food tray, a flower cart, and a sign with the word ‘invisible’ next to it. These things, along with the unorganized appearance of this area, can indicate that this might be a resting place for a homeless person.
Starting back at the store we see things that would draw a person in. There are signs welcoming visitors and the colors are vivid and warm also inviting the viewer’s eye to this area. The area behind the gates is also warm and inviting, but the gates are closed. People on the outside are restricted from entering this inviting place, it is only reserved for those behind the gates.
Looking closer we notice a very stark contrast between the warm, inviting, clean feel of the area behind the gates and the area in the foreground, especially around the makeshift bed. This is a contrast between the living conditions of those inside and outside of the gates.
As mentioned in previous essays, the concept of sequestration is when a person is closed off from a reality. This can be a voluntary process, in the case of the various forms of entertainment such as television and shopping malls. It can also be an involuntary process and in this case sequestration comes from an external source such as institutions that restrict a person’s individuality and creativity. In both cases, sequestration is when an individual is closed off from the essential in life and is instead confined to mundane distractions or is forced into an existence or way of thinking that goes against their true nature.
This image deals with a form of voluntary sequestration that stems from an attitude a person chooses to subscribe to consciously. Yet, at the same time this consciously chosen attitude can be a result of structures in society that most would be unaware of, thus also making this form of sequestration somewhat involuntary.
Looking around in contemporary society it’s easy to find a stark contrast between the neighborhoods people live in. At times, it even seems to be Marxian, where there are neighborhoods only reserved for the haves and the other neighborhoods are for the have-nots. Gated communities are examples of where the haves reside and the neighborhoods outside of those gates are reserved for the have-nots. In reality, it isn’t this black and white. It is a reality, however, that these structures separate us from others in society and through it there is a greater chance of becoming ignorant of the plight and situation of others. Ignorance can lead to a fearful and irrational way of thinking.
The plight of this ‘invisible’ man in the scene can often be misunderstood by most in society. Usually, most see the homeless as lazy and unwilling to work or find work. Their plight is of their own doing or some kind of negligence on their part. This way of thinking can lead to an exclusive belief that they deserve the situation they are in and in turn they are seen as less-than and are considered outcasts. Another way of putting it is that they made their bed and now must sleep in it. However, this is just an ignorant generalization of all those who live on the streets.
Certainly, there are those whose plight is of their own doing and there may be those don’t want to work, but there are others whose plight is a result of external circumstances beyond their control. These people might have been some of the hardest working people and now want to find work, but they were driven into their plight and are still currently in their situation through external circumstances.
This also goes beyond the homeless and their situation. This misunderstanding of an individual and their situation that stems from ignorance and irrational generalizations extends to everyone in every group in society. In psychology there is a term known as the fundamental attribution error. This is when we attribute an individual’s action based on their character, part of who they are, when in reality their behavior might be influenced by social or environmental circumstances beyond their control. Studies have show that the fundamental attribution error is made more often in cultures that focus more on the individual, individualistic societies, rather than those that focus on the group, collectivist societies.
These generalizations and irrational thoughts lead to a form of sequestration. When taking an exclusive attitude that others are less-than we close ourselves off to them because we deem them as unworthy of our attention or even acknowledgment. We want nothing to do with those who are not like us and they become invisible to us.
Another negative effect of these generalizations and unfounded thoughts is that it can lead a person to subscribe to an irrational distrusting attitude. This irrational distrusting attitude is another form of sequestration. Usually, a person that takes on this attitude closes oneself off from others out of fear. This can be attached to a fear of exploitation or simply a fear of being rejected, or harmed in some way, by those who trust is given to. In the case of exploitation, one might be hesitant to give their trust to someone they don’t know out of an unfounded fear that by giving their trust, they will be taken advantage of. This attitude can consume a person to the degree that they are hesitant to giving their trust to anyone at all based on irrational and unfounded thoughts. At a young age we are often taught to be distrusting of strangers, but this way of thinking can be carried into the life of a mature human being who is capable of distinguishing between reasonable, legitimate requests and opportunities and those that are questionable and might lead to a form of exploitation itself. Studies have shown that those who have a distrusting attitude of others are just as likely to be conned as those who have a trusting attitude. Those with a trusting attitude are still just as likely to pick up on when someone is trying the exploit them. This trust, of course, is not a naïve one that doesn’t question or weigh the legitimacy and consequences of a request or opportunity. This trust is also about giving someone the benefit of the doubt and trusting them until the other person has proven that they cannot be trusted. This can be seen as the highest form of trust, it is optimistic.
Some might question the need or benefit for taking this standpoint. A person that chooses not to take this standpoint is certainly within their right to do so, but as a consequence they miss out on opportunities and a more enriched life that can follow. The pessimistic attitude of constant distrust sequesters oneself from experiencing fulfilling and lasting relationships with other people.
Hesitation in giving trust to another person can also come from a fear of rejection or harm in some way. It is true that when opening up oneself to another person there is risk involved. However, in order to live life fully and experience everything it has to offer, taking risk is a necessity. Otherwise a person’s life would be confined to a mundane and lifeless routine. If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
When there is a negative consequence after trust is given one can become even more hesitant in giving their trust again. However, it would be a mistake to use one instance of negative consequence to generalize all other possible consequences of trusting others. Again, this is a pessimistic view that sequesters oneself from the opportunities of a more enriched life. The pessimist would conclude that the risk of trusting is too great because of the suffering or loss that they might have to endure. Often in contemporary society we are taught that suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided at all costs. To avoid suffering at all costs would be to avoid living at all costs. Suffering is just as much a part of life as pleasure. Certainly, pain and suffering are not desirable, but it is through suffering that we grow as individuals. Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces a strong will and hope. And it is in this strength and hope that we are able to live more fully and completely.
The optimist sees that the abundant rewards of opening oneself to others brings about an experience of an enriched and fulfilling life that far outweighs any risk, pain, and suffering one might have to endure. The optimist looks for the good in every person and the best in every situation and it is through this attitude that an individual is free.
Going back to the image one notices that the standpoint of the viewer is not within the walls or behind the gates of the exclusive community, but is right in the middle of where things are taking place. There is a very open feel to the store. Goods are laid out all along the sidewalk and there are welcome signs in the shop window. This points to the inviting and open attitude of a person who is not fearful or overly cautious about opening their lives to others and even going so far as to share what they have.
The pessimist is sequestered by choosing to close themselves off from the opportunities that come from opening up to others. Whether it be because of the risk and work involved or because of the suffering and pain that one had to endure in the past, they become a prisoner to fear. In this fear one cannot truly live a full and enriched life and be able to experience all life has to offer. It is through this fear that one is likely to gather together a list of regrets and dream about how things might have been. It is the optimist that is not bound by fear, but embraces life with a fiery passion and lives without regret because it is from this standpoint that life is lived completely and to the fullest.