A visionary acronym


When I started college at Penn, the social scene was a whole new world for me. After my small-town, Friday Night Lights high school experience, I thought I had social interactions all figured out. However, as a West Coast kid arriving in West Philly, I soon realized that I had the know-how of a toddler in a foreign country.

The dress was different. The norms were new. What people valued varied. It felt like an extraterrestrial plane of existence from my suburban upbringing. The scene even had its own language: “downtowns”, “BYOs”, and “the scene.” It was a steep learning curve. And I was starting at the bottom.

In the first few months, one foreign phrase stood out as particularly peculiar to me:

SABS: “see and be seen”

"Can I get the language of origin?"
Acronym-heavy college student speak

"Can you use it in a sentence?"
Let’s go SABS on Locust.

"Can you expand on that example? WTF does that mean?"
Penn’s Locust Walk is a brick pathway that runs down the middle of the campus. In the morning, around lunchtime, and when classes let out for the day, Locust Walk has bumper-to-bumper (or Sperry-to-Sperry) foot traffic. The daily commute runs through Locust.

Right in the middle of this madness was the outdoor patio of fast-casual campus staple: Frontera. Nearly all Locust passerby's passer'd-by this patio. So, to go “SABS” would be to grab a Torta & a Topo, then post up at this spot in hopes of running into the girl you liked or the acquaintance who you wanted to turn into a friend.

In my own holier-than-thou way, I used to turn my nose up at those who made SABS’ing a verb and indulged in this activity.
Friend: “Anyone wanna go SABS?”
My Judgmental Self: “Come on, don’t you have better stuff to do?“

Granted, the phrase was often used tongue-in-cheek, but I still thought that even acknowledging its existence was a sign of shallowness. To me, it represented a vain attempt to contrive impromptu social encounters using strategic positioning (as if my habitual presence at networking events were any different).

Now, I realize that SABS'ing is simply a human instinct. I won’t suggest that sitting at a café for hours in hopes that a crush walks by is an “undeniable human instinct.” However, to want to SABS - to see and be seen - is very much engrained in our nature.

To gift attention is an act of love. Seeing another... for who they truly are... in this exact moment... is the greatest gift that we all have to give. Because attention is our most scarce resource. More than time. More than money. We can only direct our attention to exactly 1 thing at a time. And the moment we do, the moment we choose that 1 thing, then the moment passes. So we have absolute ownership over our attention… and then we don’t. It’s forever here and forever fleeting.

Our attempts to SABS take different forms at every stage of life.

As a kid, I danced around the living room.
As a high-schooler, I pursued athletic feats.
As a college student, I compiled a laundry list of academic achievements.
Evolving attempts from the childhood plea of, “Look ma! Look at me!”

Now, as a grown-up, I just SABS in new ways. Likes on social media (or kudos on Strava) serve as an unspoken token of "I see you." Clothes, cars, career prestige. Often an attempt to ask, “Do you see me?” (These purchases just tend to be more costly than a Torta & a Topo).

Conversation is another form of evolved SABS’ing. For the duration of the conversation, two people sign up to “see” each other. Notice how sometimes mature adults will talk over one another when they feel like their voice is unheard or presence unseen (hand-up: I fancy myself an adult and I still do this too).

I'm not saying this is “wrong.” Like I said before, it’s our instinct. It’s natural. We’re born with this craving for attention.

Instead of trying to avoid SABS’ing, I just try to be deliberate about the ways in which I SABS. I try to ask myself:

Am I neglecting the people right in front of me in favor of those on the screen?Am I seeing my power to see others?
Am I seeing them for who they truly are or who I want them to be?
Am I seeing them in a way that’s authentic to me?

Be seen
Is this action authentic or am I just doing it for attention?
Am I only showing a curated persona or am I letting people see the real me?
Am I hoping to "be seen" before first "seeing" others?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for seeing me.
I see you.

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