The power of witnessing

I’m always amazed at how easily powerful words become bland with overuse. Words that should stop us in our tracks pass us by hardly acknowledged. Words like trust, and truth, and integrity get absorbed into narrative, become tamed and slip quietly by us.

The word on my mind today is witness. The dictionary definition includes “to have knowledge of (a development) from observation or experience”. It’s etymology takes us to “c. 1300, “bear testimony,” Meaning “see or know by personal presence, observe” is from 1580s”

It’s powerful for me today because it’s my wife’s seventieth birthday, and we’ve been witness to each others lives for well over forty years. Sixteen thousand and seventy days, to be precise.

Every day during that time, we have been witness to each others progress, setbacks, joys and disappointments. We also have two children and four grandsons and every day we witness their development. We are, and they are where they are as a result of how we have reacted to what we have observed.

Being witness to the progress of somebody else’s life is perhaps one of the most powerful privileges and responsibilities we can undertake, because it asks a powerful question of us.

what are we going to do in regard to what we are witnessing?”

Are we going to lend support, give feedback, respect privacy, or ignore? Every one of those choices has momentous consequences further down the road.

It’s equally true of what else we are involved in, from our day to day work, to climate change. We are witness, and every fibre of us reacts to what we witness. The idea that we don’t do something we could do, or at least make a conscious decision about what we do becomes an accumulating burden. The idea that we could have made a difference, but chose not to does in the end dull our soul.

If we witness it, we are involved, whether we like it or not.

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