What “The Dress” Can Teach Us About Life

In Culture by Steve Fuller

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Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

If you inhabit planet Earth, you probably know about The Dress. Last Thursday, someone posted a picture of this dress online:


Half of the world saw a black and blue dress and the other half saw white and gold. For the record, I saw a black and blue dress my first 8 million viewings, then it magically turned to white and gold for like 10 seconds, and I’ve seen black and blue ever since (the picture above is black and blue to me). What’s really bizarre is that I saw the same exact picture as black and blue, then white and gold, then black and blue.

A million articles have been written about the science behind the dress, so feel free to Google those if you’re interested. I’m going to take a more philosophical approach here.

I think The Dress symbolizes something much deeper.

The dress is real. That dress actually exists. You can buy it.

But our perception of the dress is influenced by our unique lenses. Some people opitcally see black and blue. Others see white and gold.

What happened on social media was fascinating. People obsessed about the dress. People argued about the dress. People lashed out about the dress. At one point, I tweeted, “I’m literally getting angry at anyone who tweets the dress is white and gold.” That tweet got 18 favorites, so I clearly wasn’t alone. All because our perception of the dress was the only one we could understand. All because we couldn’t see through other people’s lenses.

Can two seemingly contradictory things be true at once? Could the same dress have been black and blue to some people and white and gold to others? Heck, can three things be true at once? Or ten? Or a hundred?

I wonder if there are any lessons to be learned about politics here? Or perhaps faith?

I wonder if there is a God, and if different people use different lenses to experience that God, and if no one is necessarily right or wrong, but instead, our lenses are simply different?

When someone else sees God differently, we get angry and defensive. We lash out and call people names. Why? Maybe we feel insecure. When lots of people were seeing white and gold, I felt like I was going crazy. How could you see white and gold when it’s clearly black and blue? Am I nuts? Is my eyesight screwed up?

Sounds a lot like, How could you think God is (fill in the blank) when he is clearly (fill in the blank)? Am I nuts? Is my worldview/religion/life screwed up?

Ultimately, with either scenario, it’s easier to stand your ground. Double down on what you can see. Discredit others in order to justify your personal experiences.

I’ve entered a season of life where I’m learning to not just keep my own eyes open, but to also try (in what limited way I can) to see the world through others’ eyes. At the very least, I’m going to keep my ears open, because if I can’t see the world the way others see it, I can at least listen to their stories of what it’s like to be them. For now, maybe that’s enough. It’s at least a good start.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Christiaan Triebert

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Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

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Steve Fuller is a Professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati and a Rebel Storytellers co-founder. In 2009, Steve completed The Church Experiment, visiting 52 places of worship in 52 weeks and documenting his experiences here. His hobbies include podcasting, eating Graeter's ice cream, having his heart broken by Cincinnati sports, and getting angry at complete strangers on social media, Steve, his wife, and their Cairn Terrier call downtown Cincinnati home.
Steve Fuller

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