Bags on a Bed
This blog post is affectionately dedicated to all the people who stubbornly refused to consider the possibility that I am somewhere on the autism spectrum! - J. M. A.
"You're All Prejudiced"
I remember very little “book knowledge” from my days in junior high school, but I distinctly recall our beloved, rotund Social Studies teacher, Mr. Blucher, teaching us about prejudice.
“You’re all prejudiced,” he declared.
I was miffed. I most certainly was not.
“You’re all prejudiced,” he repeated. “Do you like ice cream?”
We all nodded.
“Then you’re prejudiced in favor of ice cream.”
Our eager tween brains pondered that in wary silence. Somehow I wasn’t sure that liking ice cream was the same thing as being prejudiced against a group of people, but the lasting idea formed in my head that to be prejudiced was simply to prejudge something based on our personal likes and dislikes, our personal opinions. Didn’t really sound like prejudice to me. Wasn’t controversial enough.
I still don’t think of myself as being prejudiced. Most of you probably don’t, either. Since “prejudice” is an emotionally loaded word, let’s use another. How about “perspective”? Here’s a little exercise in perspective that may enlighten you.
Below is a photo I took last March in a cheap hotel room in Washington, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. My brain was pretty fried from the stress of moving yet again, and I found myself staring at the “bedspread” -- not a real bedspread, but the colorful piece of material that passes for one in cheap motels these days.
In my road-befuddled brain, I began to see interesting connections and to think interesting thoughts, the way drunks do peering into the fizz at the bottom of a beer bottle at the end of a long night. So I did what any self-respecting person does in 2020. I took a picture with my cell phone, and a blog post was born.
Look at the photo again. What do you see?
Here are some possible answers.
high jump bars
badly drawn tic-tac-toe grids
Those of you who know me well might easily guess what I saw: crosses. But there are many other possibilities. A research scientist who routinely works with lab mice might see a maze. A rancher might see fenceposts. Some folks might just see a bunch of lines and decide that reading this blog post was a huge waste of time.
But this is precisely my point. What we see is determined by who we are, how we live, and what we believe. This is why ten people can look at a work of art and have ten different opinions about it. It is also why the testimony of eyewitnesses can be notoriously unreliable in court trials.
So what do you see?
Like the darkly mysterious Rorschach inkblot test, when we are presented with an unrecognizable shapeless image, we try to identify it. If we can’t identify it, we try to group it with something that makes sense to us--a similarity to something known. Our survival depends on being able to tell a rope from a rattlesnake on first glance.
Sometimes, though, our imaginations run away with us. Children are famous for this. Every parent at some point has had to prove to a frightened child that the menacing shadows on the bedroom wall are just the image of tree branches in the street light, lowering in the wind. It’s a hard thing to do. They know what they see, and you can’t convince them otherwise. Unfortuntely, we adults tend to do the same thing.
Our minds crave certainty, safety, and familiarity. And if we can’t come up with anything on our own, we turn to others for clues. If most of our peer group believe something is true, even if we’re not sure about it ourselves, we’ll often go along with the crowd just for the sake of security. Uncertainty is unsettling, especially when the unknown thing feels like a threat, as most unknown things seem to be.
As much as we Americans love buying things labeled “new and improved,” the truth is that for most of us, change is scary. And so we look at an unfamiliar situation or a group of people, try to identify it, and if we fail, we go with our peer group. We phone a friend or poll the audience. It’s the best we can do.
But we’re busy people. We don’t have a lot of time to think and ponder what something is. Perhaps we’re tired from all the stress and strain of recent months. It’s just easier to fall back on old ways of thinking. The tried and true. We prejudge.
So take another look at the photo.
What Do You See?
What do you see? Lines? Crosses? Fences? A child’s pencil game? Perhaps the more observant of you will see something more. Bags on a bed with pictures: a man searching through a spyglass at a giant fork, a man with a flying machine strapped to his back, a man in an old Model T. Of course you saw these things. But you didn’t realize it consciously because I didn’t suggest it to you. I didn’t mention those possibilities. Nor did I mention the little microwave way in the background. I only gave you limited information.
Beware of this. It’s all around us. Fake news isn’t the only problem. Incomplete news is biased news, and in many ways is worse because it contains partial truths that make us swallow all the rest without questioning what may be missing.
May Our Merciful Lord grant us the wisdom and the humility to refrain from imposing our prejudices and opinions on ambiguous, complicated situations just so we can feel comfortable and in control, or on the right side of history. May He clearly point out to all of us what really needs to be seen: the truth in all of its fullness. In the coming months, may we see the world with open eyes, diligently searching for the truth and striving mightily to leave our cherished personal opinions behind us if they no longer seem to serve. For the world is a different place than it was even a year ago, and it will take careful, clear vision to see past all the plausible but incomplete pictures that will be shown to us as we grow nearer to Election Day 2020.
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The opinions expressed on this website are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the Catholic Church.
If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.