The ethics of invisibility

As some of you  know, I have a knack for invisibility.  For a while I suspected it might have something to do with a hoodie I wore while walking my dog.

Every morning I passed another woman walking her dog and I would say hello to no response.  One morning our dogs decided to greet each other and as they sniffed and traded recipes and gossip about the Labradoodle two streets over, I looked her right in the eye and greeted her with my best attempt at neighborly cheerfulness.

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

My invisibility hoodie is not bird-proof.

She looked me right in the eye and said, ” . . . “.

That’s right: nothing.

I continued on, perplexed and worried that along with invisibility, I was becoming inaudible as well, not to mention the previously unconsidered concern that I was living among people who didn’t find it odd that a dog would be out walking himself in the morning.

My thought process was interrupted by the crash of not one but two birds, right into my chest. Boom. Boom again.

Flew right into me in rapid succession as if I were, well, invisible.

Some time later I began to notice that I was invisible even when I wasn’t wearing the hoodie.

One day while Christmas shopping, I was alone at the back of a discount home furnishings store when a woman approached and took the roll of wrapping paper I was looking at out of my hands, saying, “Is that black or green?”

I started to respond that while black would be an interesting, if avant-garde, choice for Christmas, it looked to me more of a deep hunter green that would be wonderfully complemented with a nice gold or deep burgundy, but she continued talking and I realized the question wasn’t for me.

Since at least one of us was of questionable sanity, I moved to the other side of the display, where I was similarly invisible to a man on his cell phone, who probably would not have continued his conversation on how to pull off a certain felonious enterprise had he known I was there.

That was when it occurred to me that invisibility wasn’t all about being overlooked by clerks and food servers. I could use this power for good or at least for personal entertainment.

I began to embrace my invisibility and learn to enjoy it. Here are some vacation pictures from my trip to the beach.

 Here I am on my morning stroll . . .

. . . posing with Spiderman on the boardwalk . . .

. . . flying a kite (at the suggestion of others) . . .

 Ethical concerns of invisibility

All in all I’m settling into my invisibility with ease.  I’m a polite invisible person and I attempt to maintain the highest ethical standards. With great power comes great responsibility and all that.

I am beginning to wonder, though, if there isn’t some point at which I am within ethical bounds to step outside my invisibility and intervene in a situation.

 I present for your consideration two recent conversations where I was present yet invisible to the participants.  Should I have somehow made my presence known or would that have been a breach of invisibility ethics, akin to going against the Star Trek Prime Directive?

Conversation 1:

A group of teenagers were chatting the way teenagers will do, when one of them, completely out of the blue, wondered aloud, “What does ‘twice-removed’ mean? Like, when someone says you’re cousins twice-removed, what does that mean?”

A young man in the group didn’t skip a beat, not even to consult his iPhone, in his authoritative reply:

“It’s like, y’know, when, like, there’s a couple of divorces, and like you might be a cousin from one parent, but then they got divorced, so you’re not really cousins anymore.”

Here’s what I did:


I’m pretty sure that reply wasn’t accurate, but I don’t have an iPhone and I have no idea what that once-removed thing is. I suspect that it  wasn’t invented by Jerry Springer.

 Conversation 2:

 A woman about my age, yet not quite as invisible, was having her hair shampoo’ed by the new young man at the salon. (I honestly don’t spend as much time there as my posts would suggest.)

In their friendly chat, he revealed that he was really a musician and this was just a side job. She inquired as to what type of musician. He replied that he was an R&B musician.

She asked, “R&B? What’s that?”

Gasp! At first I wondered if she were just being polite. Then a swoon of kindred spirit-hood swept over me as I considered the possibility that she was dabbling in sarcasm.

But, no, it eventually became clear that she was asking a serious question, when she genuinely wondered if the R and the B might stand for something, which was not the worst of it, because his reply was. . .

“Oh, they don’t stand for anything. It’s just R&B.”

Here’s what I did:

I minded my own business because if I didn’t block out the rest of that conversation, I might have had to hurt someone.

And I am an ethical invisible person. I do not hurt people.


23 thoughts on “The ethics of invisibility

  1. I understand and have a similar problem. A lot of people hear nothing I say. This was esp aggravating for 33 years as 11th grade history teacher. Rule was : Everything must be written in blue or black ink. All papers written in anything else were returned ungraded with a F. Week after week after week. And half still never got it. “You never told us that.” “You stupid jerk. You’ve gotten 4 months worth of F’S on every paper with my note ‘must be in blue or black ink’. ” Now get this :7 final exams were written with something else. 2 green ink, 2 pencil, one red and two purple. People cannot hear what I say. Another thing they also don’t understand what I say. Yes means yes and no means no.


  2. Invisibility? really? Well, I am glad to hear that you aren’t using your power for bad.. Like playing tricks on people or something… I know that I would be a little devious with that kind of power, nothing harmful, just some invisible fun..


  3. Interesting what you can hear when you’re invisible — I’d like to give it a try. But only if I don’t have to deal with Stupid. I don’t do Stupid! And anybody who doesn’t know what R&B is, yet claims to play it, is patently stupid. Just sayin’!


  4. My co-authors write about this, we talk about this. Here’s what I think. I think we make ourselves invisible. When I hear someone express a real question and I’m within earshot, I contribute the answer. And I would have told them that R&B means rhythm and blues. And what a cousin twice removed is. I’ve never had anyone take offense at anything I’ve said. And I refuse to be invisible.


  5. I too am invisible. It happened when I had became older than all of my kitchen appliances, older than the house I live in, but not as old as the dirt in the yard.


  6. Well, invisible people aren’t nearly so bad as the ones who intend to be the only visible person in a room. You know that bunch, too, I’m sure.

    My rule of thumb is, contribute only if I really, REALLY know what I’m talking about. R&B, I’m good on. I know R&B, and even could name a musician or two. But that twice-removed thing? Not a clue. I didn’t run into that game of let’s-trace-the-bloodline until I moved to the south. I once heard the phrase “third cousin, twice removed” and went invisible at exactly that point.


    • it is a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad Kardashian world.

      I’ve heard that once/twice removed thing explained so many times, but it’s one of those things that won’t stay in my head, like the metric system.I think it has something to do with how many degrees one is separated from Kevin Bacon.


  7. I’m envious of your superpower, but not of the heavy-duty responsibility that comes with it.

    I’d definitely be worried about those people who don’t seem to be concerned about a dog walking itself with a leash apparently floating hand-height above the sidewalk. Maybe you should use your invisibility to spy on them and make sure they aren’t pod people or robots.


  8. What a hilarious but very close-to-home post! I go through phases like yours when I must have eaten something that renders me invisible. My first reaction is wonderment and my second is to use it for evil, not good. Sometimes I cry out, “Yoo Hoo! Over here!”

    Maybe, hippie, it’s actually a vision problem along with a serious case of “It’s all about me.”


    • Do you find that certain people are immune to your invisibility? For me they are, in no particular order:

      1. Creepy old guys.
      2. Homeless street people (we have an express unwritten mutual non-invisibility agreement).
      3. Those annoying vendors at kiosks in the mall. No, I do not want you to put that claw thing on my head!!!!


      • Yes, I do know some! Creepy old guys are one group, definitely. And people riding up in the elevator with me. Damn. I hate when my invisibility fails during that time!


        • Really? I find just the opposite…and that’s when I have the most fun with my invisibility. I love to start a conversation on the elevator with someone who doesn’t know I’m there. That look of surprise in their eyes when they hear a voice beside them? Priceless!


  9. We’re so clearly isolated from one another that it’s becoming a problem. People don’t say excuse me anymore. I’m at work, people walk past, almost bumping into me, and they never say excuse me. I do say excuse me in a light tone because I work in a corporate office environment that tends to be quiet, so I don’t want to jolt anyone from their sleep. However, I say it loud enough that I know they heard me! Then, people walk out of the restrooms without washing their hands. I’m standing right at the sink and I’m washing my hands thoroughly and people walk out like nobody is watching. I want to yell out, “Remind me never to touch anything you’ve handled!” But I don’t want to get fired either. *sigh* Stupid modern times.



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