The Lens Tells the Story

It’s that time of year again – the time when I get the “reviews” from my students on how I have performed as their teacher. Reading the comments is a fascinating experience for me. One student says, “This teacher is the best one in this school,” while another one says, “This teacher has no personality and is difficult to understand.” How can the best teacher in the school have no personality? Some students claim this is a life-changing course, and others claim it is boring and useless.

Really? How can this be? How can it be that one person, in this case me, could be such a different person depending on the viewpoint? It’s the filters. The lens through which we view the world. Our filters and our lenses dictate what we see, what we believe to be true, and what we think of as “good” or “bad”. Our lenses tell us the story: We don’t see facts or data. We don’t even see reality. We see what our lens tells us we see.

Is it “good”? Is it “bad”? Well, it depends on the lens. Our past experiences and our history with a situation, or a type of person, or a long-held belief will be used to explain to ourselves what we are seeing now. The problem is that we really believe, in most cases, that we are being objective. We believe we are seeing the “truth” and we will argue with someone who disagrees with us. We will defend our position rigorously because we know – we are right!

It’s actually quite startling when we stop and think about it. How is it possible, really, that one student could see a terrible teacher and another could see someone who has graced their lives with their presence? Unless the receiver is the interpreter, it isn’t physically possible. Think about siblings in a family. How can one think the parent, or parents, were supportive and kind, and another believe they were evil people and decide never to speak to them again?

How can one employee think the boss is supportive and generous, and another think the boss is a “jerk” only out for him- or herself? How can one neighbor think the person at the end of the block is cold and unfeeling while another thinks they are a friendly and supportive neighbor?

If the facts are the facts, how can the person be interpreted so differently? It’s the interpreter, not what’s being interpreted. Why is this so hard for us to understand? Why are we so adamant that our perspective is the right one? That we see clearly and “know” what we see?

We have to be willing to drop our closely held beliefs that people are just one thing. People are complex beings. In one situation a pushy and aggressive person could be considered “bold” and confident, while in another, they could just be seen as pushy and aggressive! In one situation a quiet and uninvolved person could be seen as pensive and thoughtful, paying attention to what’s going on – while in another situation they could be just seen as quiet and uninvolved!

It’s not the person. It’s the labels we apply. It’s the lens we use to determine what’s good, and what’s not. Work this week to drop your labels. If you find yourself believing something about someone and feeling convicted in your beliefs, decide to drop it right there. Take another view and ask yourself if there is something else you could learn about this other person. Look at people as multi-faceted and complex, not as one-dimensional.