Reality is NOT in the Eye of the Beholder

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the dress

Last Friday I hopped on Facebook for a minute and saw this dress. It was the first I had seen or heard of #thedress and it saturated my Facebook feed.

I was immediately intrigued! What was the deal with this dress? I couldn’t comprehend how people were seeing anything but white and gold. Those were so clearly the colors. At first I thought it must be a hoax. Maybe there were two different dresses floating around the internet or something.

A good friend of mine posted the white and gold dress with the caption “Obviously blue and black!” Was she being facetious? Trying to get attention? Maybe she was color blind. There had to be a rational explanation. Then I watched a television clip claiming that the actual dress was blue and black. I was completely baffled.

I saw what I saw and I saw white and gold.

I was distracted by housework and forgot all about the dress until my children came home from school. They, too, had been sucked into the controversy. Most of them clearly saw white and gold. Together we expressed incredulity that the dress was anything else.

Then my nine-year old fashionista entered the room. New to the conversation, she giggled, tucked her hair behind her ear and squealed “I love that blue dress!”

Her honest, guileless remark changed my attitude. Suddenly I wanted to understand what she saw and why. I asked Gracie to show me. She pointed and explained that the dress stripes were blue and the lace stripes were black. All at once my eager eyes were opened and I saw what she was seeing.

Now as I looked at the dress, it was definitely blue and black. I had seen both color combinations and I knew that my original perception, although very strong, was amiss.

You may be familiar with the cliche that perception is reality. Perception does create our experience and it certainly seems like reality. But it is not always reality.

Consider this example shared by Dieter F. Uchtdorf in his talk about searching for truth, “Less than a century ago .. most astronomers assumed that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy in the universe. They supposed all that lay beyond our galaxy was an immense nothingness, an infinite void.” Uchtdorf continued to explain that without adequate instruments, they could not see deeper.  But their inability to perceive what lay beyond did not alter true nature of the universe. The innumerable galaxies and hundreds of billions of stars existed whether astronomers could see them or not.

Sometimes we think we are seeing things clearly, when we are actually seeing a warped or partial picture.

Stephen R. Covey once said, “Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are–or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them. But … clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience.”

Covey goes on to explain that while our differences in perspective are valid, they do not negate reality. There is an independent reality out there. In this case, the actual dress is blue and black. But so often, the objective reality is completely separate from any polarized perspective. For instance, reality does not cheer for a political party or a sports team.

It is essential that we analyze our paradigms often, that we put more emphasis on how we see the world than what we actually see.

Far too often, the real things–the important and significant things–are not readily visible. Helen Keller said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched–they must be felt with the heart.” But a heart must be soft in order to feel significance and mind must be open in order to perceive truth.

When I was convinced that my perception of the dress was reliable, I was stagnant. I did not ask, seek or knock. I did not need to. I already knew. And yet, I was missing out on the bigger picture, the deeper message of this social media frenzy. Without willingness to be wrong at times, we cannot be right.

Perhaps this is why Christ invited us to be submissive, teachable, meek, as a child. Only in this state can we pursue pure truth. Only in this state can we receive clarity.

Millions of people have seen this dress. And the color they perceived had everything to do with the way their brain translated the image. What we see has everything to do with how we see. And how we see has everything to do with who we are. Steven Covey explained that in order to see something differently, we have to be (or become) different. The stronger our character–the greater our mastery of self and the meeker our disposition–the easier it becomes to see things as they really are.

I concede that beauty–and all perception for that matter–is in the eye of the beholder. But I am humbled to admit that my impressions and perspectives are, at times, fallible.  I hope that the lesson I learned from this dress will remind me to open my mind and soften my heart in pursuit of truth.


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  1. Lana says

    comment shared on Facebook

    Shawna, I love your thought process and your insight! You are wise beyond your years!

  2. Toni says

    comment shared on Facebook

    I still think it’s gold and white…. Wonderful article- I need to broaden my perspective and enhance my character as well. Thank you for the eye opener.

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