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Seeing the Invisible: The Power of a Story

After reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison in college, I resolved never to walk past a homeless person again without at least acknowledging him or her. Ellison’s extraordinary novel helped me see those who were invisible everywhere I looked.

One night, while walking home from my Wall Street job as a twenty-three-year old, I saw a homeless man walking on the street holding a picture frame around his face.

“Hello,” I said, “how are you doing?”

“How do you think I’m doing?” he said, “I’m homeless.”

Embarrassed, I acknowledged his point and then asked why he carried a frame around his head.

“So that people might see me and not look right through me.” His response imprinted me as much as the novel did.

It is easier to distance ourselves from those who are different than to confront each person as wholly human, because we feel less responsible for what, or who, we do not see. In the daily decisions we make, we often close our eyes to the implications for the vulnerable. We want to enjoy the lives we have, but in the end, our choices come at the price of our own wholeness.

This is where the moral imagination comes in.

The moral imagination is a worldview in which we are all connected, where all individual human beings are worthy of dignity. It rests on the understanding that how we treat each other — and the planet — says everything about how we see ourselves. Never has there been a moment for the moral imagination to flourish like this one, despite the name-calling and blame that we see all around us, despite the forces that divide and demean. Looking at the world as an interconnected “we” also entails going beyond imagining to understanding.

What book has had a major influence on how you see the world?

Founder and CEO of @Acumen. Dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty. Learn more: www.acumen.org