Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How "Seeing with New Eyes" Can Preserve a Relationship

Softened hearts can emerge when people begin to see others differently.

Key points

  • When people see others only in terms of their negative behaviors, they are not seeing the complete person.
  • "Seeing with new eyes" challenges people to see beyond the negative to all that a person is and can be.
  • This process takes time and needs slow and steady practice. People are then less quick to judge others only in terms of their failings.
KuanShu Designs, used with permission
Source: KuanShu Designs, used with permission

The late (and great) Lewis Smedes in 1984 wrote one of the early books on person-to-person forgiveness, Forgive and Forget. In that book, he coined the term “seeing with new eyes” to describe what happens when we forgive.

To “see with new eyes” means to begin seeing the person who has been very unjust to us as a person, as someone who is bigger than the injustices, as someone who is worthy to be called a human being, not because of what was done, but in spite of that. To “see with new eyes” means that you train your mind to see the inherent worth of all, including people who hurt you. “Inherent” is built-in, unconditional, requiring nothing for its fulfillment. Worth suggests something or someone of great value, precious, and special. All people have inherent worth because they are special, unique, and irreplaceable, and bad actions on anyone’s part do not subtract one ounce of that inherent worth.

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with a 16-year-old girl who had made up her mind. She would tell her father what she had done. She would accept the consequences—she would be thrown out of the house. Her father was not going to accept the fact that this young woman had erred. She was expecting a baby. “My father is very strict. He will not even think twice about this. He will toss me from our home as soon as I tell him. I have gained a child and lost my father.”

With the suggestion of “seeing with new eyes,” given to us by Dr. Smedes, there is no reason why she should lose her father and the father lose a daughter and a grandchild with one wave of his dismissive hand.

KuanShu Designs, used with permission
Source: KuanShu Designs, used with permission

May I make a recommendation?, I asked. Before you speak with your father, I strongly recommend that you have a series of conversations with him “about one idea I learned recently.” That one idea is the inherent worth of all people regardless of who they are, where they live, how much money they have, how healthy they are, and even regardless of their behavior. I would start with people of different ethnicities, for example. Discuss with your father how people tend to pre-judge other people just because they are part of an ethnic group different from the ones who are judging.

I would then turn to the issue of poverty and ask your father if very poor people are less worthy of respect than the richest person in the world. I would eventually turn deliberately to political figures whom your father does not like. I would keep working with him, if you can, until he sees that these political figures possess inherent worth, not necessarily because of their political beliefs or what they do in the political arena, but because they are human beings and all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.

KuanShu Designs, used with permission
Source: KuanShu Designs, used with permission

I would then turn to a person in the family—a cousin or an uncle or anyone who annoys your father. I would ask him to work with you to see this person as worthy of respect, possessing inherent worth because this relative is a person, regardless of negative behavior. Once you think he “gets it,” I would turn to one prominent young woman outside of your family, perhaps an actress, who has hurt her own life and career because of drug use. Have your father reflect on the fact that she possesses inherent worth even though she engaged in unfortunate behavior that hurt her career and reputation.

Once he “gets it,” then turn to you, not at first in the context of your pregnancy. Instead, simply focus on you, a precious person who possesses inherent worth regardless of what you do or think or say or feel. Then when he gets this, you might consider at that point telling him about your situation. This could take days or weeks to build up to finally discussing one aspect of who you are, a young, pregnant woman, worthy of everyone’s respect because of who you are.

“Seeing with new eyes” is built up one new thought at a time. What will the next chapter in her father’s and the young woman's life look like? Forgiveness can give new life.