Per Merriam Webster
Definitions of lens noun\ ˈlenz
a piece of TRANSPARENT material (such as glass) that has TWO OPPOSITE regular surfaces either both curved or one curved and the other plane and that is used either singly or combined in an optical instrument for forming an image by focusing rays of light…
…a COMBINATION OF TWO OR MORE simple lenses…
…a piece of glass or plastic used (as in safety goggles or sunglasses) TO PROTECT the eye
…a device for DIRECTING OR FOCUSING radiation other than light (such as sound waves, radio microwaves, or electrons)…
Lenses. They dictate how we see and experience the world. Whether the lens we are talking about is the biological lens of the eye, the physical lens of a camera or the euphemistic lens of our point of view.
We all have an assumption that these lenses are transparent to us, maybe because transparency is right in the definition? In our minds and our hearts, we feel we have consciously chosen the lenses we put on the world and the events around us. We marvel at those that look through a seemingly opposite lens than ours, often dismissing them in the same heartbeat. Conversely, we gather around us and often pay much closer attention to, those who share a similar lens to us.
I find it interesting that, in the physical form lenses are not, in themselves, what we intuitively expect. The eye’s lens, for instance, relies on the brain to flip upside down the image that it sees. Most artificial lenses and complex devices that help us see (such as a sophisticated telescope, camera or my trifocals) rely on, not one surface, but multiple surfaces to produce crystal clear images. In all cases, lenses are forced to be more complex to deliver their clarity.
This is so with our non-physical lenses as well. Our viewpoints are not always what they seem or what we intuit. They are subject to powerful forces that shape the way we view the world. Confirmation bias is one such force. Have you ever seen the famous Gorilla experiment? Watch the video in the link, whether you’ve heard of it or not, and you might be surprised by the impact of your own confirmation biases. This often replicated experiment is one source of evidence that our lenses, physical or otherwise are cloudy, they are subject to error. They can cause us to miss things that are right in front of us, visually, orally, behaviorally and spiritually.
However, lenses can also be powerful and wonderful forces for directing and focusing our attention on what’s truly important. They can help us “keep our eye on the prize.” They can help us see another land, another way to show up in the world and even locate the best in others. It works best when we choose to view things differently, but sometimes we need to open our minds and see through the lenses of others first. For instance, my wife’s biased lens toward me led her to see potential in me I refused to acknowledge for a long time. Quite a few folks, I met and that loved me over the years, did the same. Some of those folks encouraged me professionally, some socially, some academically and some spiritually. They all saw me through a lens that said, “John, has so much more to give and so much more to know about how rich and full his life can be if he would simply stop being so stubborn and change his lens already!”
As a young man, I had a strong set of confirmation biases and a lens on the world that led me to believe the world was a harsh place, full of dangerous people and situations. My spyglass was one of cynicism about the actors in the world around me. Internally, I looked at myself in the (funhouse?) mirror’s lens and thought I had very limited worth, few gifts to offer the world and no chance of having the life I have today. Over time, and with the help of God, and those he put around me, I changed the way I look at the world.
Let’s take a break here and get real. I am still quite skeptical and sarcastic. I am not a Pollyanna that never sees or discusses the perceived hidden motives or ill intentions of others. Nor am I some uber confident soul that fully realizes and sees my potential. Quite the contrary, I have to fight those tendencies to self-deprecate and hate on the world every day. That said, the old me, ironically saw that pessimistic outlook as the clearest possible way to view and be in the world. My younger self-refused to believe there was any other lens to be applied. The result was a heck of a lot of perceiving exactly what I expected to see and not recognizing what (and Who) those other people were challenging me to see. I lament the decades of my life when I didn’t realize that my lens was impossibly cloudy, leading me to continuously reconfirm my worst fears and desperately in need of a good spit shine.
So what is the difference now? Perhaps the change I have made is that I am on guard for pulling out the dirty lens I have a tendency to use on myself and the world? Practically speaking, I try to correct myself, at the moment, when I refuse to Believe the Best. I now have a Faith that gives me a lens that prompts me and holds me accountable to strive to see the world and people the way God sees them, with love and a gracious heart. I try to enter new situations, conversations and interactions with this at the front of my mind. Like I said, I mess this up on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis! Nevertheless, my point is, the effort to try on another lens, whether you do that through faith, as I do, or just through shifting your mindset, is well worth the effort.
I challenge you to try it on for size for just two weeks and then report back to me. I have provided a couple of additional resources to get you started below. After two weeks, if you have not seen a difference, I will be shocked, but I will also be glad to chat with you about that. Just comment below. If you experience a positive change, I want to hear about that too! Give it a try. What do you have to lose by trying on a different lens for just two weeks? The promise is, and my hope for you is, that it changes your entire outlook on life and sees you through to a better tomorrow.
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Additional reference material:
SYSK: Caroline Webb: How to Have a Good Day
Jenn Williams: Better Together Blog
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