When I was a kid I watched my fair share of television on our 3 channel (including the French channel) black and white TV. One of my favourite shows delighted as much as it disappointed me. The show was called Romper Room. It had a 40 year run starting in 1952. Simple concept. Have a proper looking “Miss Betty” dressed in the fashion of the decade entertain a handful of polite, cute and active, but not too active, kids in a playroom on a TV set.
The best part was when the hostess would look into the camera and talk directly to me, and of course countless other kids at home. Thanks to the magic of this mysterious technology we kind of in the room with our TV friends. When it came time to wrap up the show, Miss Betty held up her magic mirror and looked directly into the camera lens. The screen went all psychedelic and then faded back to her looking through a ring with a handle. That’s when the anticipation would start to build.
“Time to see our friends at home. Romper Stomper Bomper Boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic mirror tell me today did all my friends at home have fun at play?”
As that question was formed untold thousands of kids sitting in front of the blue glowing box would sit tall, stop squirming or poking their sibling and wait. And wait. Would Miss Betty say my name? Would she see me? I would shift to the edge of my chair or even slide onto the floor closer to the box as if that might prompt her to get to the names that start with “P” faster.
“Who do I see today? I see Bobby, and Erin, I see Jacob and Sally, Betty, Suzie and John, and P… woo this is it, P…aul.” Ahh nuts.
Each episode the survey contributed another handful of lucky ones to the elevated status of the chosen few and left the ignored masses to hope for another day.
It saddens me to this day to report that during my entire career as a TV kid Miss Betty, or the Miss Whoever’s that followed her, never uttered the sweet rhyme of a simple two syllable name – Peter.
There’s an old adage that reminds us that our greatest voids become our greatest values. Hard to say how this profound disappointment in the formative years of healthy social attachment have shaped thousands kids in the club we could call, “Never mentioned my name on Romper Room.” (Facebook group anybody?)
I did come across a telling comment left on YouTube (Yes, there are Romper Room clips on YouTube) by one bereft soul who, while somewhat tongue in cheek, expresses the angst of generations. “She never said my name. And that’s why I had to become a serial killer to get any validation….SIGH…”
Who really knows what combination of experiences shape our values and personality. But as one recovering unseen child my adult passion to see and be seen has become a cornerstone of my professional offering as a thought leader on recognition as a key to employee engagement and service excellence.
Recognition: The experience of appreciated belonging
One fun exercise I share in my workshop is a personal applause session. I invite someone who’s had a tough week to come up and answer a few questions. Simple questions like name, roles, hobbies, etc. The group is instructed to applaud and cheer every time the volunteer speaks. After a while everybody is in a great mood. Why/ Because it feels good to see and be seen.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres says it beautifully in the opening line of her comedy stage act. As she comes on stage to the thunderous warm and appreciative applause her first line is, “Thank you, what a great way to start work.”
If you were named on the show then you can well imagine a work culture or community where everyone you connect with could feel seen and recognized for who they are. I believe there is a deep longing for such simple gestures of recognition by far more people than us Romper Room orphans.
This desire to be known by others is likely what Director James Cameron was appealing to when he created the movie Avatar. The Na’vi creatures, who are steeped in deeply spiritual and a nature-aligned lifestyle, approach each other with the simple, yet profound, greeting, “I see you.”
I had the honor of sharing recognition exercises with leaders in early childhood education. While the applause action is meant to be a metaphor, I was delighted when one preschool director emailed me after the program and said that they started to quite literally applaud their 3 to 4 year old’s who had great separation anxiety at drop off time. Soon the parents and other kids cheered as well and distress at transition time has all been replaced by celebration!
Do you see the people in your life as much as they would like? If not, it might be time to dig out the modern version of the magic mirror.
Footnote: I researched several archived Romper Room episodes on YouTube and actually found a clip from 1953 where Miss Nancy actually said “Peter!” Six years before I was born! After all Peter was among the top 10 boys names the decade I was born so the odds were in my favour. Sigh…
Flash back to Romper Room 1984 Courtesy of YouTube