Who is Invisible – the boy on the stairs

At 8:10 one morning last week, I boarded the 125 London bus to work. It was raining and the bus was crowded. On the stairs, standing in his usual place a teenage boy on his way to school; I had seen many times before. That day, I stood alongside him, unable to find a seat either up or down. We smiled at each other and in a familiar way, got chatting.

Having seen him on many occasions, standing on the bend of the stairs, I enquired why he travelled there. His candid answer astounded me “I’m not seen here by those who are upstairs or down – I feel more comfortable here”. On talking further it transpired he is teased by classmates and others at school because he is shy and, as he put it “more intelligent than the rest”. He is daily subjected to taunting and name calling, just because he doesn’t ‘fit in’ with the crowd.

The young man’s story got me thinking about people I have met, who struggle with finding a place to comfortably exist.

I can remember people like that I schooled with, despite being so long ago. There were some who, after seven years of sharing class, I never spoke to nor hardly ever saw them talk to anyone else. It is hardly surprising that I don’t even remember their names.

What about at work. There was a man I worked with for about five years, Nick. I was still quite young myself and in my first job. We seemed to get along quite well, though he did not socialise with the others on the staff team. In the canteen at lunchtime, he sat in the corner keeping himself to himself. He shared little and no-one shared with him – I remember thinking that he was a bit of a loner.

I guess we can all think of people like Nick from past or current workplaces. Knowing what I do now, I wonder whether he, or indded my classmates, were actually like the boy on the stairs; trying to be invisible and to a certain extent succeeding.

Who is hiding “on the bend of the stairs” in your workplace today? Are they putting out a message that they are afraid of being teased or taunted, perhaps they are being excluded by colleagues, unrecognised by their manager, or maybe it’s you?

When you next see the ‘person on the stairs’, what will you say to her or to him?

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in Bullying & Harassment, discrimination, inequality, management, workplace bullying and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Who is Invisible – the boy on the stairs

  1. There are lots of stairs in hospitals and other health buildings Michael where I suspect a lot of people are standing! Thank you for sharing your interesting observation.

  2. Mark Nolan says:

    An interesting oberservation and also echoes the lyrics of a new :Pet Shop Boys song posted on their website about being invisible, called, unusually enough “Invisbible”

  3. Birgit says:

    Why did you not talk to these people at the time Michael? My son told me about a girl in his class who behaves like this and I encouraged him to speak to her. He says she replies but then withdraws, but at least he no more thinks she is strange but rather shy.

    • equalityedge says:

      I seem to remember trying to converse with some of the quieter classmates. I should add that my memory is somewhat clouded because of the 35 years that have passed since I was at school.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I was one of the quiet ones, though I learned over time to get louder, mainly by coming up with several quick questions or suggestions in any circumstance and then just leaving all the extraverts to fight it out. The basic “invisibility cloak” remains much of the time however.

    • equalityedge says:

      I have had some considerable response similar to yours and am yet again directed to the comments of Susan Cain in her TED lecture about the introvert – she says that at least one in three people are, which perhaps is a surprising figure to most. Either they wear the “invisibility cloak” so well that they are completely unseen, or they they wear the extrovert’s mask.

  5. Chris Markiewicz says:

    Very interesting piece. There is, however the danger of an ssumption here – that “invisible” is an uncomfortable place to be. If some people feel more comfortable being invisible then so be it. I would feel hesitant engaging with such “invisible” people for fear they may find it overwhelming or even terrifying – it suits some people to be in their own company – it can be society’s expectations of people that is the problem. When I was young I was famous for my “disappearing act” where I would leave the pub or party early because I felt a kind of overwhelm. People thought my need to be on my own was weird in some way. If I declared I was leaving, they would chivvy me on to stay and I would feel increasingly uncomfortable. So, I developed my “disappearing act” and would slip away unnoticed and unhassled. There is no point in feeling guilty or conscious us of ignoring the “invisible” people – they may well enjoy being that way. Or not – we’re each different!

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