We’ve all seen the dress by now. A couple weeks ago, Dressgate took the internet by storm, as only ridiculous, nonsensical things with no real bearing on anything meaningful seem to be able to do.
I’m not knocking the internet here, by the way. I love all the madness on here–it’s a good time.
But seriously. We were (and in some cases, still are) debating the colors of a dress.
The thing is, I actually found this whole debate fascinating. A lot of people were getting into heated debates, while many others just seemed really upset about how stupid and pointless it was, but I kind of loved it. Here’s why:
We learn best by experience. Humans do a great job of internalizing things once we’ve actually lived them. Especially when they’re memorable. Memorable like, say…something silly and a ridiculous, maybe? Yes, indeed.
And now, we’ve basically all lived a really clear, vivid, and kind of hilarious example of a simple principle that rules or lives:
We all perceive our own reality.
That’s it. That’s my resounding truth.
But isn’t this the perfect example of it? The dress is, technically, blue and black. But though filters, screen resolutions, eyesight, and other variables, we’ve all basically seen a different dress. It’s not just “white and gold” vs “blue and black”—there were claims of purple, brown, bronze, and arguments over what specific shade of blue it is.
There are as many ways to see this dress as there are people in the world.
We know that the dress gives off the wavelengths of blue and black, but that doesn’t change the fact that we see what we see.
But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that this kind of personalized viewpoint is limited to pictures on Instagram. This is happening every day, to everyone. CONSTANTLY.
This is why we fight, get our feelings hurt, resent one another, envy people, ridicule others, reject opinions, and get into stupid arguments with the people we love. Because they’re not seeing what we’re seeing. And we’re not seeing what they’re seeing. It’s so simple, we completely overlook it.
If you can internalize this one idea, it’ll completely change your life: Even the idea that another person is wrong is your perception of the situation, not the truth.
Truth is a tricky concept. It’s hard to get out of our own heads because we’ve never BEEN outside of our own heads. The entirety of our existence has been as ourselves—there’s really not much any of us can do about that, either. We’re all locked into our own viewpoint. It’s part of the human condition.
So just like or eyes, screens, and prior influences help determine how we see the dress, so too do things like our gender, race, family, culture, and a million other things impact how we see life.
What makes it more complicated is that, in life, there’s very rarely an actual “right” or “wrong” answer. Right and wrong themselves are ideas conjured up by other human beings, so the determination of what’s right or wrong is so subjective, it’s almost impossible to get everyone agreeing on one thing.
“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
– Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene II
I know this isn’t even a new concept for most people—it’s likely you’ve heard some variation of this before—it’s just that the dress made it so apparent. When I really started looking at the debate, I got so intrigued. Leave it to me to turn internet silliness into something philosophical.
Back to my point, though: What should we do with this knowledge? What kind of action should we take regarding the whole “everyone sees things in their own way” realization?
For now, nothing, really. At least, nothing overt and outward. It is enough, at the beginning, to simply recognize what’s going on, and do your best to respect others’ viewpoints. I say “do your best” because I know some viewpoints are almost impossible to stomach. How can we accept the viewpoints of rapists, or murderers, or racists, or terrorists?
We’re not going to. Not right now, anyway. That’s like, enlightened-monk-living-in-a-temple-meditating-sixteen-hours-a-day level Zen, and I’m definitely not there yet, so I’m not going to tell you that you have to be.
But look at the people in your life. Friends, family, teachers, bosses…see how they have conflicting viewpoints with you, and how maybe just understanding that they see a situation differently than you do can impact their outlook, and thus make them act in a way that seems, to you, strange.
The worst that can happen is you don’t quite get it yet, and things stay the same. You might just find yourself relating to the people in your life (who you already have to put up with, so why not make it easier on yourself?) in a healthier, happier, more peaceful way.
Here’s an example from my own life: My father is still very protective of me, and worries about me going out by myself or doing things on my own. This happens in his mind, despite years of me proving myself to be capable of going out and not dying, because he’s still stuck on me as a little girl. Someone who meets me today will see an adult woman who’s capable of all kinds of cool stuff. My dad, though? He’s still seeing toddler-Eve, not knowing how to safely cross a street.
Can this get a little tiring? Yeah, kind of. It used to bug me, but since I made a perspective-shift and started respecting his outlooks, as well as my own, I became a lot more understanding of, and thus less concerned with, his view of me.
How he sees me doesn’t determine who I am, I do. So I don’t let his worry get to me. I respect his concern, I recognize it as loving, I calmly acknowledge his fears in a way that will put his mind at ease, and then I get on with my day.
Is it always that simple? Hell no. Especially not at first. And there are still going to be some people who you’re probably better off just letting go of. But it’s a great start, and it can change your life for the better. If nothing else, it’s a fun little mental game to play with yourself when you encounter people who think differently from you.