By Cameron Miller
This article appeared originally as a column in the Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-time-to-check-your-lenses/article_d9507240-b184-11e6-8648-332b085952a2.html
There are two nearly equal constituencies that see the United States and the world through very different lenses, so much so they chose to vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – or vote against one of them as the case may be. There is a third constituency at least as large as the other two and maybe larger, which looked at the situation and saw no reason to vote. Those are three extraordinarily different lenses that view the world in starkly different images.
It is the case of the proverbial blind men and the elephant, each with a different piece of the animal and each declaring what an elephant is from his own narrow perspective. The man holding the tail declares an elephant is like a rope while the man holding the trunk insists an elephant is like a hose. “No, no!” shouts another who has his arms around the elephant’s leg, he swears it is built like a column even though his companion leaning against the elephant’s side claims the animal is definitely built like a wall.
Unbeknownst to us, we see the world through a particular lens but assume the world is as we see it. Meanwhile, were there a monitor hooked up to everyone else’s brain so that we could see what they see when looking at the same thing, we would be flabbergasted at how different the landscape looks to each of us.
One of the first things I learned while working in a mental health unit was not to challenge the reality of an agitated resident’s delusion or hallucination, because it only served to make him or her more disturbed. But that is true for all of us, especially if we feel personally attacked while our view of reality is being challenged.
The wisest people I know are aware they have a primary lens, the one (or ones) that normally filter their experiences. They have also done the work to figure out where their lens came from, as in who wanted them to see the world in that particular way. But then they went about deciding if and how they wanted their lens to be refracted differently.
Childhood religion classes, for example, provide a categorical or black and white view of the world as suits the thinking of a small child who is yet unable to handle abstraction. But many adults never adjust that lens as they age and so their religious lens remains stuck in childhood. Likewise, a considerable number of people reject religion as they get older, because the only religious lens they were ever offered is the one refracted for childhood.
Pick a perspective – patriotism, nationalism, and religion; classism, sexism, and racism – they are all lenses with which we have been fitted. Often we are unaware that these are even lenses, assuming instead that how we see it is “just the way it is.” In fact, in one or more of these perspectives we may be wearing the same prescriptive lens that we were given as a child without adjusting our worldview at all.
We would do well to challenge one another’s worldviews less, and consider the lenses through which we see the world more.
Are we even aware that we have a lens, and that there is no singular “reality” that is the same and true for everyone? Do we know where our lens or lenses came from, and do we really want to keep seeing the world through someone else’s prescription? This may be an especially ripe time to ask ourselves such questions because the clash of “realities” taking place these days, ironically, can enable us to see there is not just one.
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