Our Lenses Matter…

I used to have 20/20 vision. I could see perfectly, except for the fact that I have a bit of red-green color blindness which — at worst — led to me wearing blue instead of my preferred purple ties.

But, time…

And age…

Now, I am unable to read anything without the aid of a pair of glasses with relatively strong transition lenses. Nothing. My lenses make all the difference.

Yesterday I was reading, with a little too much intrigue (and with my glasses), the comments on a Facebook post about the current immigration crisis — specifically the separation of children from their parents. It reminded me that the lenses through which we see the world are highly individual and shaped by many different factors. So many variations that no two people see things from exactly the same perspective. Even, perhaps, when we should (i.e. in cases of injustice).

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth. — Simone de Beauvoir

I certainly don’t have this all figured out, but I am aware of the lenses through which I view what is happening around me and I’m fairly certain I have not always possessed that awareness. I grew up in a fantastic community (a small town in Kansas) which I still consider home. When I was living at there, I was unaware of diversity in the community because at that time (using the lenses I had available) diversity meant race, or ethnicity, and the overwhelming majority of people in my hometown were white.

My first teaching job was at a public school in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. I chose to student teach — and then take a job — at this school because it was so dramatically different from anything I had ever experienced. I was an ethnic minority on campus. There was overwhelming poverty and violence in the surrounding community. Many of our students experienced unspeakable trauma. The culture was extremely different from what I had experienced in Kansas.

During my time teaching in Phoenix my lenses began to change. This change not only impacted how I viewed my present situation, but it changed how I viewed my past experiences. In that small Kansas town that seemed to lack diversity, I now recognize families who undoubtedly struggled with poverty. Friends who experienced the pain of broken families, abuse, and other forms of trauma. People with a plethora of diverse experiences and stories. The diversity was there — it just wasn’t in a form that I was able to recognize or define.

I will never know what it is like to be a person of a different race.

I’ve not personally experienced poverty.

I am fortunate that I have not been a victim of abuse, or trauma.

I’ve never had my child taken away from me (although I have experienced an agonizing separation).

But privilege does not prevent me from stepping back from a situation and listening to the perspective of others. In this way, I am able to catch a glimpse through their lenses. This allows me to develop understanding and demonstrate empathy. Upon careful inspection, in many cases we share common perspectives (as a parent, a sibling, a spouse, an educator, a human). The willingness to momentarily pick-up the lenses of our fellow human beings is ultimately a critical factor in our ability to treat one another with the respect, dignity, and infinite value that all people deserve.

Our lenses matter. Our ability and willingness to look through the lenses of others matters most.

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view. — Goethe

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