What do you see?

July 2, 2015

“Humans see what they want to see.”  (Rick Riordan)

That’s a provocative, but, oh so true, statement. It is perhaps the root of all prejudice that different people can look at the same thing or person and “see” two completely different things. It’s hard to imagine that the human eyes of those two people actually capture and process the image any differently. An apple would look the same to any two people, one must presume; and an orange would look noticeably different to both.

old layd young girlBut what Riordan is referencing is not the physical act of the eye capturing the image; but rather what the mind does to interpret that image – what our pre-conceived notions do to the image to distort it in our minds. We use the word “see” quite often to reference what we imagine (or “see”) in our minds eye. It’s as if we have a little Photoshop app in our minds that add things to the picture that our eye captured – layers and nuances- and then may distort  that image to either enhance it or make it ugly. So, what do you “see” in this graphic, which is perhaps the most famous optical illusion of all time. Do you see the young girl or the old lady or both?

Sometimes the surrounding environment or the setting can influence what we see. Sometimes the people that we may be looking at have gone to great lengths to fool us into seeing what they want us to see. Sometimes we combine things that we can physically see with things that are “suggested” to us to conjure up what we “see”. A great example is the recent ads that showed a hip-hop DJ who was cleaned up, dressed up and supplied with a few impressive sounding things to say about personal finances and placed in a professional looking office setting. He fooled everyone and they all “saw” him as a financial adviser that they would trust. I suppose the people who saw Bernie Madoff as someone to trust were fooled by what they saw, too.

At a day-to-day level, many people have developed a knack for not seeing the things in life that they don’t want to see. They can look passed that man on the street corner begging for food or a place to live. They
diverse hands look at an LGBT person or couple and their vision is clouded by fear and hate and they “see” only sin and unholy behavior (at least by their self-righteous standards). They look at a black person or a Hispanic and “see” only a criminals and drug dealers and welfare scofflaws (especially Donald Trump). If they don’t see someone who looks a lot like themselves then they don’t “see” people worthy of meeting and interacting with; perhaps they even see danger and ill intent where none exists.

It is our ability to add nuance and context from our own minds to what we physically see that can either visualizationenhance the picture or darken it. That is something that we must always be keenly aware of and vigilant to control. That is especially true in setting where the other people may have greatly different styles and manner of dress than us. Walk into a tattoo parlor and see what you “see”. How much of what you see in your mind’s eye prejudices you before the first word is spoken. Walk into a predominantly black or Hispanic bar or night club and see what your mind’s eye tells you about the clothes that you “see.” Are you really seeing things or is your own mind and your prejudices coloring the scene for you? You probably can’t see what you are missing by letting those prejudices control what you think you “see”.

It’s strangely appropriate that people will often use the expression “I see you completely differently, now”; once they have gotten past their initial prejudices and really taken the time to get to know the person that they initially saw as a threat or as someone to be avoided. I think that the phrase that we started with – Humans see what they want to see – needs our attention. We need to want to see; to really “see” the person that is standing in front of us and not just the mental image that we have conjured up out of our minds eye. To do that we must be more aware of that predisposition to allow things from our past color what we see now. It’s not easy. It takes conscious effort; but the effort is worth the reward of being able to cut through themen hugging layers of misunderstanding or misinformation and actually “see” who is really there.

The more that you try to do this – to really see without pre-judging – the easier it will get for you and the more you will find that you’ve been missing out on knowing some pretty interesting people because what you saw before had nothing to do with who they really are. As for the guy on the corner asking for help; the next time that you see him, think of it as if you were holding up a hand mirror and look that guy in the eye and see if you can as easily look straight through him. You don’t know his story and no one will know yours if you should end up there someday if they don’t “see” you. Maybe that will help you “see” things in a different light.

In the meantime; I’ll “see” you later.

Life and troubles are both impermanent…

July 1, 2015

“We are all visitors to this time, this place.  We are just passing through.”  (Aboriginal Proverb)

“Nothing is permanent in this world—not even our troubles.”  (Charlie Chaplin)

Those two quotes could each by themselves be the subject of a complete post here; however when you concatenate travelerthem and see the common theme, it makes for a powerful thought. The Aboriginal proverb establishes the impermanence of our lives and the Chaplin quote takes that theme down to the level of our everyday lives.

The Aboriginal proverb may help us understand that life is a little like a visit to Disney Land. Did you make that visit, or something like, that when you were a kid? Do you remember it? In your memories was there stress? Were there concerns about your job, about how to pay the bills, about what people thought of you? Did you lay awake the night before concerned about a confrontational experience that awaits you the next day; or was your sleepless night caused by thoughts of all of the things that you hope to do the next day – caused by excitement and not by fear?  How can you get back to that place?

And the Chaplin quote seems to build upon the thought of the impermanence of life by extending it to the transient nature of our “problems” in life. We all tend to fixate on what is just ahead of us – the current crisis that life has thrown our way – our “troubles” as Chaplin put it. As I get older, I have noticed that I somehow have survived the many life crises that I was sure at the time represented the end of life as I knew it. I woke up the next day. I was still alive and the world had gone on about its business. Maybe I had suffered a loss. Maybe I had lost a friend. Maybe the love that I let gothought I had for someone had not worked out as I had hoped. But, still; I was alive and able to go on. Nothing, it turned out, was permanent in this world; a world in which I’m a visitor, just passing through.

I’ve written a few times here about being able to roll with the punches that life throws at us. The thoughts that are contained in the two quotes today really establish the base from which you can have an attitude about life that allows that to happen. If you begin with the premise that everything in life (including life itself) is impermanent, that establishes a perspective that helps you to let go of things that might have happened and even of people whose paths may have crossed yours. Some people are harder than others to let go of; especially if you shared your life with them for a significant period of time – parents, wives, children and relatives come to mind. But even those relationships are impermanent, because they, like us, are just visitors here, too.

As a person just passing through you have choices to make about how you conduct yourself. You can be like the idiot who was driving by and threw their fast food bag out their window and onto your lawn – uncaring, unthinking – an idiot. Or, you can be responsible and properly conduct your life in a manner that will not label you as an idiot. You may be just passing through, but you needn’t leave a trail of litter and garbage in your wake. Some people do that by discarding old friends in favor of new friends as they go through life, sometimes tossing the old friends out the window as they drive away. Some even discard wives and children as if they were expendable bags of garbage. These are not people that I would choose to befriend. Would you?

As a visitor here you might also take the attitude that you are going to explore and learn as much as you can about the place that you are visiting, just as you might about a foreign country that you visit. That means going places and doing embrace diversitythings, but most of all it means meeting people. It means embracing diversity, because you can learn something new or see things from a different point of view. It means reserving judgement and not pre-judging, based upon things like looks. It means keeping an open mind and judging people on their actions and not some pre-conceived stereotype. Remember that they are visitors, too; and they may be just as wary of meeting you as you are about meeting them.

As you spend your time visiting here, you’ll undoubtedly hit some rough times, have some hardships, suffer some setbacks or losses; just remember that those things are impermanent, too. There will be a tomorrow and most likely you’ll be there, with those troubles behind you, if you are willing to leave them where they belong – in your past – and move ahead. Use your time visiting here wisely, not living in the past but always looking to the future – a new day, new friends, new opportunities, and new experiences.

Have a great day and rest of your week, fellow traveler.