We All See the World Through Our Own Set of Lenses

There’s just no point in saying, “Don’t judge.” We all do. Without judgment, we couldn’t discern right from wrong, good from bad, wise from foolish. But let’s try – starting now – not to judge each other more harshly than we’re willing to be judged. And, when we do judge others, let’s stop and ask ourselves, “Does this really affect me in some significant way? Is it really robbing me of my own joy in life?”

It might even be worth contemplating, for a moment or two, if any feelings of negativity spring from someone else’s triggering of envy or self-loathing. Perhaps the supercilious person in the cartoon really has a sucky camera, or can’t take a decent photo that doesn’t include his own thumb. And how many times have we seen anti-gay politicians outed from their own closets? Are we being hard on someone else, because it’s easier to smash the mirror than to look into it?

If you missed it, Apple’s “Misunderstood” holiday commercial illustrates this point perfectly:

Makes me cry, every time.

There’s a lens we all share – a grainy, filmy lens that covers up a lot of flaws and brings a few into sharp focus – it’s a lens that lets us live together in relative peace and harmony. It’s a lens that lets us agree that killing, raping, and robbing each other is wrong. That part of the lens is crystal clear, because even if there are days we fantasize about the death of someone or other, we’re pretty aware that somewhere, some time, someone’s had that same thought – about us.

Inflicting ourselves on each other in any way that doesn’t allow for easy, polite escape is generally wrong, too–but not always illegal. This is where the shared lens gets a little murky and distorted. There are boundaries that we can mostly agree on. But all those other little annoyances we observe in others – what do they really matter? Who cares if the Aunt Doris likes to dye her hair blue, dons a pink pleather pantsuit with a shockingly orange Naugahyde purse, shows off her “Hello Kitty” tramp stamp, and studs her fingernails with rhinestones on a Saturday night? Are our frowns of disapproval, perhaps, robbing their recipients of joy? Is there some reason we feel the need to do that to each other – is it giving us any joy?

We all do it. There are days I fantasize about being Simon Cowell. Even if I could stop myself from rolling my eyes and looking askance, I’d probably think uncharitable thoughts about our fictional Aunt Doris’s fashion sense. Because I’ve been conditioned, all my life, to do just that. I mean, I don’t really care. If she feels cute and confident, all dolled up like that, what’s it to me?

I’m just suggesting that we work a little harder, this year, to become aware that we’re doing it and figure out why – and whether we could maybe do it a little less – at least where it doesn’t lead to a better sense of community with the folks we share this planet with.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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10 thoughts on “We All See the World Through Our Own Set of Lenses”

  1. Well, I’m eager to dye my hair blue one day too . I just hope that my friends will be the first ones to approve of my derring-do, after having given free rein to hysterical laughter of course. I itch to take up the cudgels for more tolerance on similar challenges and situations. On second thought, however, I wish I could respond with more understanding and kindness when the occasion to “judge” presents itself.

    1. Well, let’s make it a goal this year, shall we? You bring up a good point – it’s okay to laugh WITH each other. Just be sure the person with blue hair is laughing first. 😉

      I’m not sure I’m advocating for “tolerance.” Tolerance, like political correctness, implies a certain amount of social hypocrisy. I’m hoping we can examine ourselves and figure out why such hypocrisy is needed, in the first place. Can’t we be honestly kind? If something’s not HURTING us or others, what is there, even, to “accept” or “tolerate”? It simply IS what it is. It’s not really for us to tear down or try to eradicate.

      I’m not even saying we have to LIKE everything. I actually was pretty snarky about some artwork, recently – saying I’d like to go home and make a parody of it, slap a $1500 price tag on it, and compete. (The original was a $1200 encaustic painting.) Instead, I looked up “encaustic painting techniques” and got inspired to try batik again, soon. I need to order some supplies. But you know, I went from sneering to appreciating. Doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind and now LIKE the original, but I can appreciate the effort that went into it – I can appreciate that it’s colorful and bright – and I think any sneering, judgmental snark I may have expressed probably had its roots in jealousy. So I should, instead, see if I can create something I’d be proud to have hanging in public with a $1500 price tag on it – and just hope that viewers were a little quicker to appreciate it than I was this other artist’s. 🙂
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  2. The video made me cry, too, damnit! I love the message here. I have a parent who is incredibly judgmental, and it does take a bit of joy from everyone around her. It’s more than judgmental though, it’s a willingness to jump to negativity. Although, it’s made me think about my own reactions. (If only to make sure I’m not like my mother!)

    Where did the cartoon come from? It made me grin.

    1. Missy, click the cartoon to go to the original – and the website where you’ll find more like it! If you hovered over it, that actually IS the URL – it’s not shortened and it’s not hiding something. That’s really where it goes. xkcd: web comic.

      (This kind of goes back to the other day’s post on the Death of Hypertext. See the link at the bottom of THIS comment. 🙂 )

      Your mom probably grew up around hypercritical people, too. Maybe she worked hard to please them all and now feels slighted that others seem unwilling to do the same for everyone around them. I’m sure it’s a hard cycle to break. I’m lucky; I had parents gave honest and constructive criticism, but also found lots to praise and encourage. I think it’s fair to be critical of hurtful behavior. Kind, but critical – not to let it fester in quiet resentment. But yeah, aside from that, why would we want to make others feel…less? Or less happy? Just habit, sometimes? I wonder, if someone gently pointed out to your mom (probably in private) how her negativity sapped others’ happiness, if she really INTENDS that effect, and why? I’m sure DOING that would take incredibly bravery or desperation, but it would be interesting to know. 😀
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  3. I wonder if when we’re being really judgemental about other people, whether this reflects a lack of flexibility about ourselves. If we’re always beating ourselves up for not being good enough, then we’ll probably be really judgemental about others too. So maybe it’s a start to be kinder to ourselves, and the need to judge others could just fade away…or seem less important anyway. As you say, if it’s not directly affecting you then so what? Enjoyed reading the post thank you. Andrea

    1. I think so, Andrea. (Note that when I said “not to judge each other more harshly than we’re willing to be judged” I deliberately didn’t phrase it as “not to judge each other more harshly than we judge ourselves.” That was deliberate!) I think this is just another aspect of The Golden Rule (which, in some form or other, predates most of the established religions of the world – I think it’s an outgrowth of the ability to live in a community of any size).
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  4. I grew up with a harshly judgmental mother, (think Judge Judy), and believe this is why I try never to judge others too severely. If it doesn’t affect me personally, (as you said), then it’s really none of my business. Your take on tolerance gave me pause. It has always been part of my self-described personality and I’ve never considered it to be a form of hypocrisy. The Dictionary.com definition: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” This is a good thing, yes? On the other hand, you said: “what is there, even, to “accept” or “tolerate”? It simply IS what it is.” Point well taken!

    1. Oh, I have no quibble with the dictionary’s take on “tolerance,” either. But I think that in context – in the same breath with “political correctness” and “acceptance” and “appreciating diversity” (or just generally getting along with people who are different, quirky, and maybe grating on our nerves) – the words “tolerance” and “acceptance” have both taken on other connotations. Like “put up with” in a sort of defeatist way. I prefer the notion of EMBRACING diversity – in the sense that one person’s weaknesses are complemented by another’s strengths, and together we might make a much better, stronger team than we would without each other. And genuinely LOOKING for those things – not just OVERlooking the stuff that bugs us about others.
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  5. I loved this post! A bunch of thoughts ran through my mind as I read about everyone judging to discern right from wrong. Then, I watched the video. I admit I was thinking to myself, another teenager tied to his phone instead of engaging with his family. Then, I thought of all the times people judged or ‘assumed’ things.

    I prefer to view it as an awareness. It’s an openness to everything and everyone. When we are critical of others, I think we are also being critical about the part of us that is also saying or doing whatever it is we are critical of. Things that make you go hmmm.

    1. If this post helps people be more aware of what’s behind their judging others, when the judging really isn’t necessary and doesn’t add to anyone’s happiness or make the world a better place, then I will be very happy, Tandy. I think you’re right, and I think maybe this is one of those serendipitous themes for the day – or the week. I just saw a video clip of Jennifer Lawrence, who was almost in tears over the media’s use of the word “fat” and the way the media harps on young people for not conforming to some weird-but-“ideal” body type – even so, she admitted, “I do it, my friends do it…” We’re conditioned to do it. We imitate people – probably NOT because they’re hypercritical, judgmental, or snarky, but because we perceive those people to be as superior as they pretend to be, maybe. Or popular (without realizing they have followers because those followers are afraid to not to be hangers-on, for fear of being victims). It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t get a lot of attention (I mean, outright bullying deserves more attention – as does, frankly, climate change – but this is something we ordinary people CAN control, and maybe we can make the world a little better).
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