Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue

February – March 2024 : The little things READ ONLINE


Becoming invisible, part I

March 06 2012
Invisibility ain’t all it’s cracked up to be...


The thought of being invisible when you’re young seems like a dream come true. To travel the world unseen, walk into sweetshops and enjoy all the candy you can eat, to bunk off school and get up to untold mischief, such is the appeal of owning the power of invisibility.

Of course, as you get older, you accept that the chances of invisibility ever becoming a reality are at best slim, a simple but delightful fantasy with no grounding in reality, at least not in the literal sense. The closest thing in life to becoming invisible in any other sense, you find, is to simply be ignored.

We’re all ignored at some point in life. Sometimes deliberately, but usually unintentionally and commonly followed by a near-instant apology. We’re all guilty of ignoring someone too. We may ignore because of a short-term dispute, we may ignore due to absent-mindedness but we rarely ignore people simply because they exist... do we?

There are thousands of people out there in the world who are doing this all the time. The majority don’t even realise they are ignoring another person, the reason for which is simple: they no longer recognise the ones they’re ignoring as ‘people’.

When I was younger, the sight of homeless people very much intrigued me. Encountering individuals sleeping rough in shop doorways after closing time, on park benches covered in newspaper or on pavements reaching out to passers-by for some “spare change” would no doubt stir curiosity in any untapped innocent mind.

But the over-zealous parental need to “protect” children from what adults have declared “social ills” conditions them to steer clear of homeless people as if being shielded from a large puddle in the road, an abusive bystander or even a stray dog in the street.

As children grow to become adults, these ideas often remain. They also continue to evolve on a subconscious level. Responding negatively to a request for assistance soon develops into the casual ability to completely ignore a person altogether. The more widely accepted it becomes as a social norm, the less hesitant people become to walk on by without even turning to look at, let alone smile or speak to, the person on the street.

The homeless become street furniture, existing as an unfortunate by-product of a consumer society. Their pleas are drowned in a sea of street calls from newspaper vendors to charity collectors. They become just another voice vying for the attention of people’s time and purse; they become another voice to ignore by force of habit. The homeless are no longer the same as ‘ordinary’ people; they become less than human. They become invisible.

To be continued next month...