Hidden Figures

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My wife and I have been patiently waiting for the opportunity to see the recent movie, Hidden Figures, ever since we first saw a preview of this stellar story.  The opportunity finally arrived last week in the form of my parents offering to come up and keep our two bundles of joy so that we could enjoy a date night.  Our choice was clear:  Red Lobster for dinner (namely for those decadent cheese rolls) and one of our local theaters to see this movie we have literally been drooling over for a while.  We were not disappointed!  My purpose of telling you this is not to give you a play-by-play of our few and far between date nights, nor is it to give a movie review.  To receive these types of reporting you may find ample sources via facebook and film review websites.  No.  I want to talk about the significance of hidden figures such as Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan.

By nature I am closer to an introvert than an extrovert, so I have always appreciated the impact of “hidden figures.”  These are people who take value and pride in working behind the scenes, making things go seamlessly with little to no credit.  For many this seems to be a thankless status that is not worth taking value in, but I would like to offer the UNcommon Perspective that there is value in being a hidden figure.  Think of it.  In the context of this film we as a country have always given great value and coverage to visible figures such as John Glenn, a praised astronaut and U.S. legislator (who is interestingly enough a less focused figure in this film).  It is only today – nearly a half-century later – that hidden figures such as the Johnson/Jackson/Vaughan trio are given further stage credit.  They were behind the scenes, fighting for science, racial equality, and relevance, while also giving John Glenn and others the notoriety that they enjoyed.  Let it be clear that were these hidden figures not present in the story the value given to NASA and such well known individuals would not even be close.  There is value in being a hidden figure because it gives value to others.

Allow me to take some personal space here to share part of my empathy on the subject.  I serve in the role of Lead Pastor and previously served in the role of Worship & Youth Minister.  Both of these are quite visible roles that I have filled while at the same time never feeling that it was necessary for me to be in the forefront.  In fact, I took great comfort when I could fill the hidden figure role and see things go smoothly while knowing that I had a part in the success and value of what took place.  Because of this I have always had a keen eye for recognizing hidden figures in life and have sought to encourage them and give value to what they accomplish each day…unnoticed.  Believe me.  Your life and mine would look a great deal different were these hidden figures removed from the daily grind that we thought we knew so well.

This UNcommon Perspective fills two ways of application in my mind:

  1. To the extrovert OR visible figure, find ways to take notice of those hidden figures, giving them value for how they contribute so significantly, and simply remember to say “thank you.”
  2. To the introvert OR hidden figure, take value and encouragement to “keep on keepin’ on” because your work will never be done and it will never decrease in value and worth.  People are relying on you!

The roles that I have filled as a “hidden figure” in my life have always fed me greater than being a visible figure.  I think back to years of teaching beginner musicians in a private teaching role, enjoying the foundation being laid and rejoicing alongside these students as they went on to do greater things as musicians and citizens.  I knew that my role mattered as I watched their value, learning and impact continue upward.  Believe me, as I “Facebook stalk” some of my former students I see that my value as a teacher was in giving value to these students.  This may be the UNcommon Perspective to many, but I find it to be the necessary perspective.

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