The Dress, or, Some Thoughts about Perspective

I am now living in a house divided. No, it’s not a political disagreement; it’s not a matter of seat-up or seat-down; it’s not even that Tim supports New England teams, while I am a born and raised Philly fan. No, none of those things have ever made us stare at each other with such disbelief as “The Dress.” You know which one I’m talking about. The one that blew up the internet last Friday. The one that is clearly white and gold, even if my husband for some unknown reason believes it is blue and black.


I first saw a few friends post about the dress on Facebook, and I couldn’t believe that there was any controversy. I turned to Tim, showing him my phone, and planning to laugh at the craziness of other people. “Do you believe some people think this dress is blue and black?” I asked. He looked a little bewildered, and said, “What colors would it be?” I couldn’t believe it! I knew that people saw the dress differently—that was the whole point of its going viral—but I had assumed that Tim would see things the way I did.

The issue was investigated and explained. The picture, taken in poor lighting, caused some people’s eyes to compensate and essentially apply a filter to the image. Those are the people who saw the dress and white and gold. Those who took the image as is saw blue and black. For the record, it actually is blue and black (even though I still can’t see it). There was a lot of fast research done through online polls which found that younger people tended to see white and gold, and those who wore glasses saw blue and black more frequently. And all this in a day and a half.

It was a crazy story that took social media by storm, and it is now mostly forgotten as we move on to something else. But it brought up a very important point about how much perceptions matter. About realizing that someone else has a different reality than you do. That was the hardest part for me. Tim and I were looking at the exact same image, on the exact same screen, and saw two completely different things. When it’s a picture of dress, in a tweet from someone we don’t know, it’s easy to shake your head and say, “that’s weird,” and move on.

But what about when it’s more than a dress? What about when how we perceive the world has profound impacts on our lives? I see the world through a certain lens: I grew up with a suburban middle-class, intact family. I am white, and a woman. I am petite. I grew up in church. My parents were actively involved in my education. I attended a small liberal arts college, and then received a master’s degree.

Often we remain unaware of the different lenses that can change the way we perceive reality. What if one of those things were different? For instance, what if I grew up in a blended family, with step-parents and step-siblings? How would I view the world differently? What if I was black, or Latina? Would I still view the presence of police officers as a comfort, instead of a threat? What if I was a man? Would I feel more comfortable walking to my car late at night? You get the point—the options are endless.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my first list. It is who I am, and all those circumstances have been a part of making me who I am today. I don’t have to apologize for any of them. But I do have to be aware that they all affect how I see the world, and view my reality. And I have to realize that other people have different realities—and their realities are not wrong because they are not the same as mine.

How many misunderstandings, fights, and outright prejudices could be avoided if we took time to stop and walk around in the other person’s shoes? Recently, in our women’s Bible study at St. Paul’s, our conversation led us to Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment: You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor. Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism reads, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations.” This is all well and good, but Luther does not stop there. For every “you shalt not” Luther adds a “you shall.” He goes on: “Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

In other words, when someone does something that makes very little sense to you, or says something that seems to come out of left field, take the time to try and see where they’re coming from. As silly as “The Dress” may be, it can teach us all an important lesson about perspective. Rather than assuming that everyone sees things the way we do, consider that other people’s realities might be a little bit different. Even if the dress was white and gold.

6 thoughts on “The Dress, or, Some Thoughts about Perspective

  1. Loved it! And, Laura, I understand that you think the dress is white and gold, but I, an older person who wears glasses, say it’s definitely blue and black! (I have a blue and black dress that I love, so that may prove your point that we bring all kinds of personal experience to bear on our perceptions.) But your point is very well made: I know I need to work harder to see others’ points of view. Thanks for making me more aware of that.


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