Electro, the Power of Being Seen, and Showing Our Work

I just wanted everybody to see me… ~Max Dillon

Spider-Man You okay? You all right?

Max Dillon You’re Spider-Man. … I’m a nobody.

Spider-Man Hey, you’re not a nobody. You’re a somebody.

At our house, every Saturday night is movie night.

Lately we’ve watched quite a few superhero movies, because like most 10-year-old boys, our son is a big fan. I still can’t remember who is an Avenger and who is in the Justice League, but he lets me watch their movies anyway.

A few weeks ago, we watched one of the many Spiderman movies. It’s the one featuring Jamie Foxx as Electro, an unlikely villain who begins the movie as Max Dillon, a regular, unassuming guy – who happens to be a Spiderman superfan.

In the first segment of the movie we watch how Max is unseen and unappreciated in his day-to-day, even as we learn he developed some of the very infrastructure that will be critical later in the movie. He’s the smart, shy, nice guy who’s constantly taken advantage of – and who even describes himself as a “nobody.” It’s tragic.

Then, as with all superheroes, he evolves from a freak accident (this one involving, of all things, electric eels), and we see him emerge from obscurity with new powers that are confusing and scary.

I won’t give any more away, lest you want to see the movie yourself… but as the plot unfolds we learn his primary motivation: being seen.

Being … needed.

It turns out that Electro, as powerful as he is, is powerless against the words “I can’t do it without you.”

His need for approval and recognition and visibility after a lifetime in the shadows is just too great.

And his rage at being overshadowed is … well … electric.

It made me think of how being important, relevant, appreciated – even just noticed! – are universal human desires.

It also made me think about … Donald Trump.

Trump is not a superhero. He’s not even a supervillain. He doesn’t have superpowers. But he’s a darn good marketer, who has a great sense for his audience’s needs.

He saw an entire country full of Max Dillons who feel invisible – overshadowed and (at least for the white men) newly unimportant.

So he set about convincing a huge swath of the country that he saw them and appreciated them, and that he would help them exact revenge on the people (Democrats – aka women and minorities) who had made them feel forgettable. Then he mobilized them.

He got elected as a result.

Such is the power of feeling seen.

Marketers like Trump have known this for a long time. It’s why the word “you” is considered one of (if not THE) most powerful words in marketing.

It’s also why political folks should “show their work” as much as possible. Back when I was a facilitative mediator and trainer, I used to give new mediators the advice: Mediation is like long division. You get credit for the right answer – but you only get full credit when you show your work.

You only get full credit when you reflect back to someone what they have said – and what they meant – so they know they have really been seen. It’s probably easier to give you an example. Consider the a difference between:

(1) You’re upset with Mary because she broke an agreement with you, right?


(2) So, I just heard you say that you’re upset with Mary because she promised X, but broke that promise – and it sounds like that really hurt because after 5 years as neighbors, you felt like you had a better relationship than that and wished she would have talked to you first. It sounds like there’s not just a broken promise, but a broken friendship. In fact, it sounds like you’re pretty sad about it. Is that right?

Both of the passages above show you listened. Both passages show you understand what has to happen for the conflict to be resolved (or not). But the first one sounds clinical and detached (*cough* Democrats, pay attention! *cough*) And the other one shows you heard the nuance of what’s really going on.

Which one would you respond to?

That’s what I mean when I say you only get full credit when you show your work.

It’s the same thing with politics. Democrats might have the right policy answer. But that doesn’t matter if people don’t feel seen.

I’ve noticed this becoming a bigger and bigger issue during the pandemic, when people feel isolated and ignored and invisible. The more we can do to show people that we see and understand them, the better.

So the big question: how can we show people that they are seen?

Honestly, it doesn’t have to be hard. Often it’s just verbalizing what you think is obvious.

But you can get creative, too. A few years ago, when a truly terrible gun bill was making its way through our state capitol, I started a petition.

Pretty common, right?

But this had a twist: any comments people made on the petition would be read (by me) in the state capitol rotunda. I wasn’t just delivering their signatures: I was telling the lawmakers what they had to say. I was making sure these people were heard, in the literal sense.

I got thousands of signatures … and happily read comments in that rotunda for hours.

Last year, I asked folks to sign a different petition to give teachers access to vaccinations. Again, pretty common.

But this had a twist, too: each person who signed would have their name hand written on a construction paper heart, which would be delivered in a box to the governor. Again, thousands of people signed (and I had a very sore hand for about a week).

Why did those two petitions do so well? In my opinion, it’s because by signing them, people would quite literally be seen (via a paper heart) or heard (in the rotunda).

So my challenge for those of you working in organizing and political spaces is to sit back for five minutes and think of a few different ways you could help your supporters, potential voters, and volunteers feel seen. I’ll bet you’ll come up with lots of ideas. I’d love to hear them.

You know, lucky for us Democrats, we really do see people. We see the struggles, the problems, the needs – and we want to help.

We even have great solutions.

Now we just need to show our work.

Speaking of – let’s get to it.

Actions for the Week of June 7, 2022

Don’t Let Up On Gun Reform

March for Our Lives is having marches across the country this Saturday, and leading up to that we need to hit the phones and show legislators how important this issue is to us. It’s go time, friends! Commit to calling this week.

Indivisible Houston ran a training webinar covering everything you need to know to birddog your own Republican MoCs, and you can click here to watch the recording of their training now.

You can find a March for Our Lives event near you on the national map and, if you don’t see one currently being organized in your area, register to host a local action now.  

Virtual Screening of Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Fight to Vote

Progress Texas is partnering with Brave New Films to host a virtual spotlight screening of their new film Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Fight to Vote on Wednesday, June 8th at 6PM (CT). The film is a powerful documentary that takes a look at the growing threat of voter suppression in our elections.

They will also be leading a panel discussion following the film with other voting rights organizations, including Black Voters Matter, Common Cause Texas, MOVE Texas, and Texas Civil Rights Project.

Sign up to attend the virtual screening!

Thursday: January 6 Hearings

This Thursday evening, the January 6 hearings begin. (Gulp.) They’ll be covered live. But in the run-up to the hearings, The Brookings Institute published a report: Trump on Trial: The January 6 Committee Hearings and the Question of Criminality, available at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Trump-on-Trial.pdf

It’s a comprehensive look at the evidence we’ve seen thus far, which is helpful to look at in advance of the hearings. From the report’s Executive Summary:

The issue of criminality is central to the congressional hearings commencing on June 9, 2022, convened by the House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Pending the Committee’s own interim or final reports, this publication serves as a guide to the hearings and the evidence the Committee and prosecutors may adduce as to whether Trump and his circle committed crimes. The report covers key players in the attempt to overturn the election, the known facts regarding their conduct, and the criminal law applicable to their actions.

I highly recommend checking it out. Fair warning that it’s lengthy and I’ve yet to get through the whole thing. But even reading the Executive Summary at the beginning will give you a great background in the lead up to Thursday night’s events.

Your Local Epidemiologist Explains How We Can Address Gun Violence Using the Swiss Cheese Approach (H/T and thank you to Lisa D.!)

This morning I got an email from Small Deeds follower Lisa D., who forwarded the most recent email from Your Local Epidemiologist. Thank you, Lisa!

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to Katelyn Jetelina’s substack: Your Local Epidemiologist, you should be. She has excellent, expert, data-based insights on public health (usually COVID, for obvious reasons). But in the edition Lisa forwarded, Katelyn addressed gun violence, and (as usual) her insights and ideas are spot-on.

“We are all familiar by now with the Swiss cheese approach for COVID-19. The same model can be applied to gun violence. I adapted it below. The overarching theme is that no solution is perfect, but we can add enough layers to slow down or eventually block the opportunity for the disease (i.e., firearm deaths). This needs to be executed at the individual level but also the community and policy levels.”

Bravo! The key here is the layered approach–– and not feeling defeatist by the Republicans blocking common sense laws. Check out the post here: https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack.com/p/firearms-what-you-can-do-right-now?s=r&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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