A student walking down the hallway spills his drink and keeps walking, never thinking about the janitor who will have to clean up his mess, or other people who might end up with sticky shoes.
A family hurriedly passes by a young woman and her dog who are homeless, camped out on the sidewalk, hoping for enough donations to buy some food.
A young person eats lunch at their desk, never considering that the burger they’re consuming used to be a living, sentient being.
A group of young people marching to support climate action tramples a city garden as they cut across to join other marchers.
In our every day lives, there are so many other beings and elements of the natural world who are invisible to us — and on whom we have either a positive or negative impact. Whether due to our worldview, the media we consume, or our values, there’s a lot we don’t pay attention to.
To help students become solutionaries, it’s necessary that they expand who and what they notice, broaden their circles of concern, and ensure that their choices are aligned with their values.
Here are a couple exercises you can do with your students to help them see who is unseen in their lives and to help them cultivate their compassion and empathy. (We encourage you to do these exercises, too.)
Have students go through their days and notice who and what they usually don’t notice, including people, nonhuman animals, and the Earth.
For easier focus, you may want to divide this exercise into multiple days: a “people” day, where they look for the people they may not normally notice or pay attention to (The school janitor? The check-out clerk? The person who is homeless?) and consider them and their lives, their needs, etc.
Then have them do the same with a day for nonhuman animals: What are all the ways students’ lives and choices touch/impact/encounter animals?
And for the Earth: What are all the ways students’ lives and choices touch/impact/encounter the natural world?
Encourage them to actively seek out people and animals to whom they’ve never actively paid attention, but on whom they may rely for some reason.
Ask them to reflect: Who and what do you “filter out” from your typical view?
Doing this exercise will begin to help students develop a sense of how their worldviews inform their actions and beliefs.
Invite them to reflect on what they’ve discovered. You may want to have them “record” what they’ve learned in some way, whether via a journal entry, through art, etc.
Discover: Who Is Missing? Who is Invisible?
Have students then spend time noticing who is missing and invisible in the larger world.
Have them look at children’s books, advertisements, news stories, pop culture, and other kinds of media, and consider whose perspective is invisible, missing, misrepresented, or intentionally excluded.
Be sure to have them include and consider the perspectives of people and nonhuman animals and the natural world. How many missing/invisible examples can they find when they turn their attention to actively looking?
Have them make a list of who and what they noticed is missing/invisible and the context.
You can follow up with activities like these to help students think about who’s missing.
In our Solutionary Program Online Course, we ask participants to find at least two examples where someone is missing/invisible (at least one for a nonhuman animal and one for a marginalized or disenfranchised person or group), and share them. Here are just a few examples of who/what they listed:
- children and families affected by ICE raids
- janitors at school
- people in prisons
- people making a positive impact on the community
- people who are homeless
- people who have to view and filter “objectionable” content on social media sites
- people with rare diseases
- slaughterhouse workers
- animals who undergo product testing
- cows and other beings whom we eat
- sea animals
- urban animals such as feral cats, pigeons, raccoons
- wildlife who are displaced due to development
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