We See With Different Eyes
And seeing is believing
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
In February 2015, Twitter crashed from overuse. At 11:36 p.m. there were 5000 tweets a minute on the same subject. Was it about the terrorist attack at the headquarters of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo? The massacres in Nigeria perpetrated by Boko Haram? Donald Trump descending a golden escalator at Trump Tower about to announce his candidacy for President of the United States?
No, it was whether the dress was black and blue or white and gold. I viewed the dress as black and blue, and my then 7-year-old grandson identified it as white and gold. As he repeated with conviction, “I saw it with my own eyes.”
Isn’t it proof positive if he saw it “with his own eyes?” Isn’t that what we are taught? Don’t believe that John and Mary have snuck away for a little private cozy time. After all, did you see it with your own eyes? No, then don’t gossip.
We’re talking about physical things here, not spiritual beliefs or invisible realities like love, justice or honour.
We believe in evidence: A woman is convicted of a crime because a witness saw her do it, with her own eyes.
The dress is quite easily explained; it has to do with chromatic adaptation and how the brain perceives colour.
Once you add memory to the equation, though, I saw it with my own eyes goes out the window.
I have three children, now adults, who grew up in the same house. One child says, “This happened on this date. I saw it myself.”
Another child maintains emphatically that it did not happen, no way.
Yet the third proclaims that it might have happened, although not quite in the way as was described by the sibling.
So what’s a mother to believe? I think she is to believe that they are all right and all wrong.
If we add personality differences and age to the mix, nothing can be taken at face value. In other words, what we saw just doesn’t matter.
I grew up in a family that suffered severe and tragic losses. Once there were five of us, and then only three. First, I lost my father and then my brother. We survivors all witnessed the same events differently. Indeed, we not only saw them differently, we experienced them inversely.
I saw my mother as a hero. Who else could have survived such horrors and not jumped off a bridge? The fact that we were taken care of day after day seemed like a miracle to me. My sibling did not agree.
I used to hit the Y first thing in the morning, often doing some errands on the way. On this particular day, I headed to the bank on Greene Avenue, the local shopping district that consisted of exactly two blocks. It was spring, and I was clad only in tights and a leotard, covered with a tattered Wonder Years sweatshirt that I was prone to wear in those days. Not such a pretty sight.
There is a restaurant on said street that was popular then. As I hopped out of my red Subaru and checked the meter to make sure that I really didn’t need to pay because it was before nine o’clock, I heard a slight cough coming from the cafe’s terrace. Paying scant attention, I turned towards the bank. Again, a hack, but louder. I spun around to see a gentleman sitting in front of a plate of food, quickly turning crimson. I took in a lot of facts at once; one of them was that no one was moving to help.
I dropped my purse on the hood of my car and ran, trying to assess the situation. Waiters continued to serve, and ladies continued to eat omelettes as this man choked. What was wrong with people? Exactly how out-of-hand had our uncaring world gotten? I was already yelling as I slammed my right foot onto the premises.
“Hello? Folks!! This man is going to die if someone doesn’t help him.”
At the table with the guy sat another man, somewhat younger, well-dressed and not moving his eyes from The New York Times.
“Does anyone know the Heimlich manoeuvre?”
“Guys, help him! Someone call an ambulance!”
The man was turning redder and redder as he gasped.
“HELP!” I screamed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied someone coming towards me. Finally!
“Cut!” he said. “Will someone get this crazy lady off the set?”
All of a sudden, I realized that that restaurant was not even open for breakfast. I hadn’t seen any film equipment, though. No dollies or cameras or rigs. Well, not until the moment I was being led off the set.
I skulked into my car, forgoing the bank and maybe even the gym. I can’t remember.
Clearly, what I had seen with my own eyes was not what I had seen with my own eyes.
Life is just more nuanced than that.
Logic is misleading.
Anais Nin wrote, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”
We struggle to make sense of the world around us, and much of that comes from observation.
“It’s right there in front of you!” Our partner tells us as we try to find the mustard in the fridge.
“Just look for them,” our parents tell us as we search for our missing sneakers.
Wait…the pink ones or the green ones?