What Color is this Mess?


We all remember this dress right? For some it’s white and gold, for others, it’s black and blue, and for many, it’s just a dress. So who's right? We will get into that...


But in the interim, I think we should recognize what a perfect allegory this dress is for the current state of affairs in this country. How can all Americans look at a single issue (the death of George Floyd) and draw so many conclusions about its significance? Even more startling, most are so convinced that their interpretation or viewpoint is the right one. We have gone beyond political correctness, and are now suffering from an addiction to just correctness. What do I mean? Well, thanks for asking Karen…


I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “We are so polarized right now”, and it’s true, although I’d make a good argument we have been on a steady state of polarization for a while. Don’t believe me? Go back and read any political article from 2012, 2008, 2004, etc….you’ll find that phraseology in most analysis describing the political atmosphere. 


But why are we so polarized?


I’ll save you my deep state conspiracy theory about the quelling social profitability of the duopoly in our political system, and just say that I believe it’s because we do not know how to be wrong. Stated differently, and referenced above, we are addicted to being right…nay…correct.


Think about the last time you gave ground or changed your mind on an issue you felt strongly about…....I'll wait.....


If you're like most Americans, changing our beliefs about an issue is hard. As a matter of fact, our beliefs, once we have held onto them for a while, actually begin to shape our identity. That's the reason, it's rare to see people change political parties, leave their faith, or even join a faith. Steven Dubner, who wrote a fascinating book called, Freakonomics, has a podcast of the same name where he digs into this topic much deeper, and I highly recommend you listen to it. (https://freakonomics.com/podcast/change-your-mind/)


As a result of us choosing to be the hero in our own story, we have predestined ourselves to always come out a winner, and never be wrong. But is that the right approach? Should we dig deeper into our beliefs when challenged?



This brings me to the matter at hand…the George Floyd death. 


We have been lead to believe there is a binary choice for stances we take on some of the most controversial topics. For instance, you’re either: - Blue lives matter or Black lives matter - Rioting is bad or Rioting gets attention - White privilege is a myth or Systemic racism exist - President Trump cares about blacks or Trump says racist things The list could seriously go on forever, but wherever you stand on these issues, the conversation usually starts in the compromise, not in the combativeness. Complex issues rarely have binary choices. I’ve been reading discussions many of my friends are having with one another about this issue, and it’s frankly really sad to see people care more about being correct about their personal stances than being willing to concede ground and risk being wrong. If we would listen and ask more questions, rather than defending our position, I think we'd be surprised at how much more productive those conversations become. So far, I've asked eight questions!

Complex issues rarely have binary choices.

And that gets me back to the dress. The first time many of you saw the dress, you reached a very quick conclusion about its color. But whether it was a fun curiosity or a deep-rooted desire to learn about top-down visual processing, you couldn't wait to ask a friend, coworker, or relative "What color is this dress?" Additionally, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume when they told you they saw a different color than what you saw, you probably didn't hurl accusations alleging they were Nazis from the Obama Deep State, right? If you did, you might want to re-evaluate your friendships. In an article written by Slate magazine back in 2017 about the “dress” phenomenon, they wrote, 

“Even outside of vision scientists, most people just assume everyone sees the world in the same way. Which is why it’s awkward when disagreements arise—it suggests one party either is ignorant, is malicious, has an agenda, or is crazy. We believe what we see with our own eyes more than almost anything else, which may explain the feuds that occurred when “the dress” first struck and science lacked a clear explanation for what was happening."

Does that sound remotely plausible? I think it does, and I think it's something we should really consider when discussing topics that we have firmly rooted opinions about. I mean, think for a second how the nature of our political discord would change if we approached every conversation with the same awe and wonder we did when we first asked someone, "What color is this dress?" But instead of talking about a dress, we asked questions about racism in the black community or the sense that many whites don't see any issues in our justice system as it pertains to minorities, or asked, what systems in place led to the death of George Floyd.  If we're being honest, many don't ask these types of questions because we don't want to be challenged with antithetical ideas. It's no different than the age old question, "Does this make me look fat?". We don't ask, because we don't want to know.

Personally, I happen to enjoy these types of discussions. I'm the one guy you don't want to invite to a Thanksgiving dinner if you're trying NOT to talk about politics. But I enjoy learning why some people vote the way they do or hold the beliefs they do because I always go into those conversations expecting to learn something new. It doesn't necessarily mean my views will change, but I'm open for them to change, and I'm willing to create the environment where ideas can be exchanged freely. So when I asked the question earlier about who is right about the color of the dress...I'd argue that the premise of the question is incorrectly predicated on someone being right, and that's the wrong focus. It shouldn't be a matter of who is right or wrong, who is the winner or the loser, but rather who is willing to subdue their own desire to be correct long enough so that they can hear from others.

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