Earlier this year the image below was posted on Tumblr with the tag, “Is the dress white and gold or black and blue?” That single post led to marital discontent, celebrity arguments, news channel mayhem and millions of views and shares on social media. While the rough statistics showed that about 78% of people saw the dress as white and gold, the 22% who saw it as black and blue were actually correct. The real dress is in fact black and blue.
There is a lesson here. While we think we are all quite similar, we truly see the world through different lenses. The simple fable below further demonstrates the point.
Imagine that in your own country, from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lenses in the sunglasses is yellow. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there, because they have always been there and they are a part of the human body. Everyone has them. What makes them yellow are the values, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and assumptions that all people in your country have in common.
Thousands of miles away in another country, from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lenses in the sunglasses is blue. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there, because they have always been there and they are a part of the human body. Everyone has them. Everything the people see, learn or experience is filtered through the blue lenses.
A traveler from the yellow sunglasses country who wanted to go to that faraway land had enough sense to realize that, to learn about the country and the people more thoroughly, he would have to acquire some blue sunglasses so that he could “see.” When the traveler arrived, he wore the blue glasses, stayed for two years, and felt that he really was learning about the attitudes, beliefs, values of the people. He actually “saw” wearing the sunglasses. He came home to his own country and declared that he was now an expert on that country and that their culture was green!
hat happened? He had a hard time removing his own yellow filters. By being able to understand and describe the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas and assumptions we have, the lighter the yellow becomes and the more blue the other culture becomes.
Our perceptions of the world are based on our experiences. Once we have been exposed to new experiences our perspectives are forever shifted. Appreciating differences as a strength is something that has made America strong and creates competitive advantages for many businesses. Diversity of thought is the innovation engine that enables companies like Apple and 3M to build innovative products that truly change the world.
When interacting with those who see the world through a lens that is very different than your own, approach those interactions from a positive learning perspective. Seek to understand the other person’s lens and reason for seeing the world so differently. Many conflicts can be avoided by taking an appreciative approach to differences rather than a combative approach. The black and blue dress is a good reminder that we all see the world differently and that is a good thing.