During a recent conversation with a couple of friends, the topic veered off into ink colors specifically for what to put into a fountain pen. As I was looking at color swabs my friend T was putting on paper to get my opinion, I commented on how similar two of them looked to me and how I perceived another in a way she could not wrap her head around. They couldn’t be any more different (I’m sure she thought in a Chandler Bing voice.)
It’s important to note that I am a tiny bit colorblind and have slight difficulties differentiating certain shades from one another across the color spectrum. Reds and greens in particular are a challenge. This manifests in me not properly perceiving what I’m told are dramatic differences between some colors out there. This may have resulted in me one time buying some pants I thought were brown until someone gently told me, “no, Greg, those pants are more of an olive green.” Oops. I often feel like I won’t be able to fully appreciate the beauty of a grand forest.
After explaining my eye cone deficiencies, my friend did her best to explain to me how each ink color swatch was unique, what underlying colors made each swatch look the way it did (e.g. one green has more yellow tones whereas this other brown had reddish tones) and how she’s able to perceive these things. I tried my best to see what she was saying in each color sample, doing what we all do when we can’t see something quite right: squint. Spoiler alert, squinting your eyes is neither a solution for improving overall vision nor one’s ability to see colors with greater accuracy. Regardless, I appreciated her patience in pointing out what I very obviously could not see.
While an imperfect analogy, it got me thinking about the “colorblind” spots each of us struggles with. Some of us are blind, whether partially or in full, to understand the perspectives of people who grew up in a different setting, such as living in the suburbs and not being aware of the specific struggles of a dense urban city or quieter rural town. Perhaps you can’t get yourself to wrap your head around the differences between, say, Catholic and Baptist traditions and simply choose to live in the dark and be blissfully unaware of what makes each unique.
A disproportionate amount of tension and misunderstandings in this world come from us 1) not being sufficiently aware of our surroundings, specifically of people, 2) being unskilled at asking questions, and 3) not being good at asking questions which is very closely tied to #2. Far too often we don’t recognize or ask to understand how others see the world. But what happens when we slow down to ask those questions, to pick up on cues both obvious and subtle, that the person you’re interacting with (or just consuming their content online) may have a blind spot that causes them to come off as harsh, cruel, or misguided. What is your response to that moment of newfound information? Do you pause, recenter yourself, and work to educate and share how and why you see what you see. It’s too easy to assume others totally “get you” and that you “get them.”
Dig, ask questions, share, explain. Don’t be afraid of your limitations, but do be aware of them.