We Don't See Things as They Are: We See Them as We Are | January 16, 2015

We Don't See Things as They Are:

We See Them as We Are

Consider for a moment where you are sitting and what your physical perspective is of this stage. Are you on the balcony looking down? Are you on the sides with a good view of stage left or stage right? Consider, also, who is sitting next to you. Do you always sit next to the same person in the advisee group? Even in the limited area designated for your advisory, do you change up your seat? Where you are sitting and whom you are sitting next to can influence how you emotionally process and perceive what is in front of you. How often do you work to embrace a different perspective? I know that when I sat where you are sitting and watched Will Laud imitate me, I got a whole new perspective!

Recently in the news there have been a number of stories that involve perspective. Specifically right now I am thinking of the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as well as the attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Coming off of MLK Day, it is interesting to note that white people and black people perceive the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases very differently. Sixty six percent of black people polled think the use of deadly force in both cases is not justified. In contrast, 43% of white people see the use of deadly force in the Michael Brown case as justified but only 14% of white people see the use of deadly force in the Garner case as justified. So you can see a marked contrast in perception to the same events.

I encourage you to consider the multiple perspectives of these cases because it is fascinating, and that is what scholarship is: considering something from multiple angles. To open you up to seeing things differently, let's start with looking at a few optical illusions, some of which you may have seen before . . .


This fall, I watched the boys' prep semi-final soccer game against Newark Academy with Don Austin, the headmaster of Newark. His son was on the team, so he felt especially invested in the game. I must admit that I enjoyed watching the game with Mr. Austin because it gave me a different lens through which to assess the competition. I could sense his satisfaction when his team did something well, and I found myself appreciating good play on both sides of the field. Of course, I was very pleased when we won, but I was particularly struck by how it felt to watch the game through two lenses, my own and Mr. Austin's.

Bifocalism is the ability to see the same situation from multiple perspectives, and this is something that comes from practice. Probably many of you have grandparents who wear bifocals. These glasses allow you to see both far away and near at the same time. Learning to wear bifocals can be difficult. You have to tilt your head slightly up to see near things and tip your head slightly down to see at a distance, but after a while the merging of perspective happens seamlessly as your brain learns to combine two images in a single field of vision.

As we head into the second half of the year, I have some recommendations for you, and my first recommendation is to encourage you to strive to see the world from more than one perspective. Work to test your ideas. Work to recognize your preconceptions and assumptions about the world. Work to look at the view close up and then from far away. Work to see a situation with compassion and emotion then see if you can distance yourself and consider the same situation with detachment. This type of questioning and critical thinking is what distinguishes an MBS education.

My second recommendation is that you seek conversations with people who think differently from you. This will help you see more clearly what it is you believe. Do not avoid disagreement, and remember that you do not have to be disagreeable to disagree. Listen carefully to the contrasting point of view, and if you disagree, say, "I disagree, and here's why." Intellectual conversations do not have to be personal.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said "The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." This is a thought-provoking idea, particularly in a world where we tend to think in dualities of right or wrong, moral or immoral, black or white, God faring or not God-faring, us or them. With this in mind, I challenge you to think about your thinking. What kind of a thinker are you? Do you think in shades of gray or in black or white? Do you have the capacity to see from more than one perspective?

There is a saying that I want to leave you with. The saying suggests that we can only see situations and events according to our past experiences, culture, faith, and values. It goes like this: We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are. I challenge you to invalidate the saying. While it is important to acknowledge our past and where we come from, it is also important to be open to new perspectives, understanding how others react to an event or situation so that we can learn and grow and determine for ourselves how to make sense of this world.





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