Camera On or Off? How to Bear Witness

No Video Please

I snuggle into the recliner in my living room on this Sunday afternoon. I open my laptop. The Zoom event will begin in 5 minutes.

I click the “Join meeting” button.

I’m in.

But I’m looking for another button now to turn OFF—the most important button today—the “Start Video” button, the one I will disable so I can see without being seen.

Because I’m still stewing.

I just had to get my hair cut this morning. I couldn’t wait another day. So I rushed to a come-anytime hair salon 15 minutes away. I’ve had luck there before.

My hair is short; I only need a trim; anybody can do it, right?

Not this time. When the lady cutting my hair is almost finished, she says she’ll do a final little cleanup on the sides.

And she brings out the electric razor. And makes one too many cuts, including of my pride.

I walk out of the salon and look at myself in my car mirror. Do I cry? Do I scream? I just go silent.

This may be the worst haircut I’ve ever had.

Three hours later, sitting at my computer now, I find and turn off the “Start Video” button on the Zoom call.

No one is going to see me today.

Elysha’s Request

One of our video hosts, master storyteller Matthew Dicks, comes on my screen to applaud us for showing up 5 minutes early, even though technically I’m not showing up live; I’m only a still photo in the group.

I’m fine being just a photo.

Then Matthew’s wife Elysha gets on.

Elysha also welcomes us. She’s glad we signed up for this virtual Speak Up Storytelling event. We’ll be hearing six beautiful human beings share their personal stories of trauma with us, a group of strangers on the other side of a screen.

All is well. I settle deeper into my chair. I’m excited to listen.

But then everything changes.

Before introducing the first storyteller, Elysha asks a favor of us, the audience. She reminds us that we’re here to bear witness to these stories, to these people. If we were gathered in person, the speakers would see us and watch our body language and absorb our attention as they speak.

But because we can’t be in person today, Elysha says we can still give the speakers our presence in a different way: Please turn on your computer cameras.

  • Let the speakers know you’re here.
  • Let them see you listening.
  • Let them see your online applause when they’re finished recounting their stories.

But my hair, Elysha! You haven’t seen my hair today! I don’t want anybody to see me.

Yet her plea moves me.

I unclick “Stop video.”

My face now shows up live among the sea of faces in the online crowd.

I’m now fully here.

Who Cares Now?

I sit still and listen to the stories.

  • From a Rwandan refugee who saw atrocious killings of her family members.
  • From a teenage boy whose mother escaped a Bosnian genocide to make it to America.
  • From children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who saw the lifelong scars they bore.

The more I listen, the more I forget about my hair. My hair, for crying out loud.

Who cares about my hair?

Not me. I am here. I am breathing. I am alive.

After the last storyteller speaks, we all hold our hands in the air and wiggle our fingers in virtual applause. I dry my tears (I’m on my fourth tissue).

I click “Leave Meeting.

I search for the “Donate” button to contribute to the co-sponsor of the Speak Up Showcase event, Voices of Hope. I want these stories to continue to be heard. Their voices need to be listened to.

Not just by those of us on the Zoom call. But also by others.

When we listen, we are bearing witness.

  • We are showing up to validate lives.
  • We are affirming our support.
  • We are making a statement that I hear you, I see you.

But we also bear witness by letting ourselves be seen. By keeping the camera on.

I’m still sitting in the recliner with my computer in my lap.

Yet somehow it’s not the same me that was sitting here an hour ago.

My hair hasn’t grown yet, but maybe I have.

Do you keep your camera on or off for zoom meetings? Share in the comments.

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24 thoughts on “Camera On or Off? How to Bear Witness

  1. Martha J Orlando

    I’m vain about my hair, too, Lisa. But oh, how trivial it all is in light of powerful stories shared by these people. I’m sure their testimonies will stay with you and remind you of what is most important in this life.

  2. Donna

    Lisa, I have to laugh, I had a similar thing happen to me years ago, and I cried for two days, because in fact when I went into the salon my hair was below my shoulders, when I came out it was barely below my EARS!
    But I totally resonated with your ZOOM dilemma of “being seen”. Unfortunately I have to do MANY more ZOOM meetings than I would like for my job, and truthfully, I rarely participate with video.

    But ZOOMing with my sister in law battling cancer, who bravely sought being seen bald, no eyelashes or eye brows, just her beautiful smile convicted me who just spent 20 minutes fussing about my hair & applying make up.

    This is so precious, “But we also bear witness by letting ourselves be seen. By keeping the camera on.”
    May I leave my vanity at the door and choose instead to testify to others stories, by being fully present, camera and all. Thank you for this vulnerable story today!

  3. Debbie Wilson

    “My hair hasn’t grown yet, but maybe I have.” Lisa, how I can relate. And how awesome for these survivors to share their stories. Next week I have tickets to the movie Sabina. It is only showing a week. It is a story of good overcoming evil. I met the Wurmbrands decades ago. Their courage and faith changed my live.

  4. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, this is just beautiful. It is so true. It is important for others to see us. There is a bond formed as we see and are seen. I can remember years ago when greeting an older man, I said: “So nice to see you!’ He responded, “It’s even nicer to be seen!” I have never forgotten. Love that we all get to grow through the sharing of your experience.

  5. Barbara Harper

    I’m sorry about the haircut! Hopefully it will grow out soon.

    When the whole church was meeting via Zoom, I felt bad for the pastor preaching to empty boxes. Yet I understood, and I am sure he did, too, that “fidgeting” especially for those families with children, might seem more obvious with everyone on camera. In the early days of the pandemic, after the preaching was done, everyone would turn their video on and we’d ask about each other’s week. That was fun, to actually sees people’s faces and catch up.

    I can understand the need for face to face contact in a situation like you mentioned. Wow, those situations really help us put things in perspective and open our eyes.

  6. BettieG

    Oh you’ve brought tears to me today also. It truly is so important to let others know we acknowledge them, and that we are listening. Thank you for sharing from your own vulnerable heart!

  7. Maryleigh

    On so many levels, Lisa – this: “bear witness by letting ourselves be seen” – not just our outward selves – but letting people in to the inward part of ourselves – even the parts that don’t look like we’d like them to! I love this (an am so very sorry about your hair-cut – I remember watching a barber going shorter and shorter on one of my boys with each mistake he made. There was much frustration in their hearts after that day)!

  8. David


    I have long since stopped giving my barber any suggestions about what he might do with my hair. I just try to keep him in a calm, relaxed mood until he’s finished. He’s a good barber, we get on well. I just know my place.

    I’m in two minds about “camera on”. In meetings, “camera off” means I can lie on the floor or do yoga when it’s not my turn to speak. OTOH I agree that showing your face is a kindness to the other(s). At work our team (of 8 programmers) has a new manager and I know he found it very intimidating facing this bank of 8 icons. We also have “microphone off” unless we speak. He would ask a question of the team. Silence …

  9. Linda Hoye

    Sorry about the haircut. I’m sure we can all relate to getting one of THOSE cuts. I’m often tempted on Zoom calls to leave my video off but I’ve come to understand that it’s a gift to be present with the others when we’re able to do so. Still, it’s good we have the option when we need it!

  10. Amy Jung

    Thank you, sweet Lisa, for telling us about how you cooperated with God’s working in your heart through others. I can totally imagine the same sort of thing happening to me! Thank you for laying down your challenges, turning the video on, being fully present, and inspiring others to do the same.

  11. JeanWise

    This made me both smile, then think. I too love to hid the camera on many zoom calls. When I do go “on” though I am much more engaged. I love how you connected in this experience!

  12. Lois Flowers

    Aw, Lisa … I’m sorry about that bad haircut. But what a perspective shifter … to be able to show your face—“bad” hair and all—as an encouragement to people who were sharing hard stories. 🙂

  13. Maree Dee

    I’m so glad you turned on your camera. I would want to see your beautiful face looking back at me. I am sorry you received a bad haircut. Thank goodness hair grows.

    You reminded me how important it is to turn on the camera and listen, Blessings, Maree

  14. Calvonia

    Haven’t we all had those days when we didn’t feel camera ready, so we kept the camera off. But is it really about us? In your situation it was really about the witnesses. Those telling the horrific stories of trauma and pain. Those willing to share. Those who needed those stories to be heard and validated. “We are making a statement that I hear you, I see you.” We can all learn from your story Lisa. We need to keep out cameras on and I’m not just talking about video cameras. Our eyes need to be open and aware, engaged. So the brave story tellers will know as they bear witness, we hear and we care. Thank you for this lesson.

  15. Jan

    I can so relate to your story-not all haircuts are created equal, that’s for sure. However, indeed in the big picture it truly is insignificant I agree. The enemy knows all about our vanity and uses it whenever he can. Thx 4 reminding us to stay on our toes!

  16. Lisa Jordan

    Aww, such a wonderful post! Your haircut was important to you and I’m so glad you could validate your feelings. I’m also glad you were able to shift your perspective by just showing up. And that’s what we all need to do–just show up and be authentic with our lives and our love. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

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