I wear glasses.
I’ve worn them for so long that I cannot remember when I first started wearing them. I believe it was the second or third grade. I wear them, because if I don’t, I’m obviously unable to see well. Words are blurry. People look fuzzy. Everything is out of focus.
I can try to not wear them, but I end up making mistakes. I’ll bump into something almost assuredly. Without my glasses, my perception is skewed and I am unable to see life for what it truly is.
When we think of the word perception, we are thinking about how we see and perceive something around us. We immediately think of it in terms of sight, but it also has something to say to us in our relationships with one another. Perception can influence the reality of something that has taken place. Truly, perception is nine-tenths of reality.
So what does that mean, and why is it important?
Perception gives us a way to put into perspective something that has taken place. We all have biases that inform our perceptions of the world. What I mean by that is we all have ideas about how the world should be or could be and that often influences how we judge or evaluate events around us. Things like our cultural heritage, political ideology, religious denomination, and other identities are core components in helping us evaluate the world and what has taken place.
Where we often see this the most is in our discussions with one another regarding political or world events. Our responses are often based upon how we see the world and how we want the world to be. We take seriously that our view or understanding is the most important and accurate account of the event, and we’ll make sure that everyone knows about it in our conversations with one another and, especially in today’s time, on social media.
As we live this way, our perception of the world is what drives our conversation and interaction with the world.
What happens, though, when we only want to see the world through our own perception?
That is a question we often do not want to wrestle with, especially in a time of deep political and societal division. One of the qualities that gets missed in polarized times is the ability to appreciate and understand the perspective of another’s experience. Because just as much as our perspective is valuable and necessary in understanding something that took place, so too is that other person’s perspective.
We don’t always want to take that time to consider another person’s perspective or understanding, because it may conflict or challenge our own view. This hinders our dialogue and ability to speak with one another. If someone brings a perspective from their experience to a conversation on a topic, for instance race and injustice, that is contrary to our own viewpoint, we immediately dismiss or challenge that person’s view. We’ll say that they were wrong, did not appreciate what we had to say, or discredit the humanity of that person. As followers of Christ, we’ll dismiss the words of the Book of James that call us to listen and not speak out and, instead, speak without hearing what someone else has to say.
This is dangerous and only increases our divisions and anxieties. Divisions are enhanced when we are unable to consider that someone else may have an equal and necessary perspective that we all need to appreciate and hear.
So, how do we move forward?
As a child, I remember that those of us who had glasses used to play an old game where we would exchange our glasses for a moment with someone else. Maybe you have done that for a brief moment. You would look into their lenses and see if they needed something stronger or weaker than you and quickly give them back. What it did was symbolically allow you to see the world through another’s eye.
That is how we get through the divisions that exist in our world. We have to be willing to put on someone else’s proverbial glasses and see the world through their eyes. That is how we bring forth common understanding and appreciation for one another, by taking time to live with and appreciate one another. The biggest issues we face in this country and world will never be solved through debates, social media postings, or getting angry with one another. It will only be solved by talking with one another and, more importantly, listening to each other’s perspective.
When we are willing, and even a little bold, to listen to someone else’s perspective, we are able to grow to not only appreciate their understanding, but we are able to find commonality and connection with one another that we didn’t think was possible. This is a value that is certainly needed, not just in the world, but especially in the church where we are called to be “one with each other and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes again and we feast at his heavenly table.”
That commonality and connection will bring forth a deeper life through what then becomes shared experiences across different perspectives of life. If we can do that and take it seriously, our world will be a better place, because we will grow to appreciate and understand one another in a deeper way.