Somewhere around age 40 I started to read the texts on my cell phone or the small print in my Bible like a trombone player. I would slide it close to my face then back away again, attempting to find the perfect spot where I could read it.
I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts since early high school, so blurry vision wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but my issues with close-up reading was a new experience, though I seem to be right on schedule (41 years old and still hitting my milestones!).
In May I went in for my yearly appointment with the optometrist, and he suggested I try multifocal contact lenses. Now I was already familiar with the idea of bifocals. I mean, Benjamin Franklin supposedly invented them, so they’ve been around for a while. But these types of contact lenses are a more recent invention.
Each lens is designed like a bullseye with several prescriptions: one for far away, one for in the middle, one for close up and gradually varying degrees between these three. I’ve been wearing this prescription for five months, and my brain has figured out which lens to use in each situation. It can switch and tell my eyes how to see the pine needles on the trees several yards outside my window or the computer screen just inches from my face. It’s these varying layers of strengths that have improved my vision.
This same theory can be applied to other kinds of vision, too. In order to truly see a person—an explanation for his behavior, his relationships, his choices—you need the benefit of layers. Close up you get a different story than what is seen in the wider world. When someone takes a stand that you don’t understand, you can listen to his reasons. When someone reacts with an intensity you didn’t expect, you can hear what he says about his background. There’s almost always more to be seen than what first meets the eye.
When we jump to unfair conclusions without listening to the other side, we are looking at the world through a blurry lens, the only clear objects are those as familiar to us as our own hands. Anything else is unknown and therefore seemingly unknowable, unless we make an effort—out of love and empathy and basic human kindness—to try to know it.
Before you share an inflammatory article or post a pot-stirring tweet, consider what you know about those you intend to disparage. Take a breath and listen to the other side. Practice Habit #5 from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD.”
Just as the layers in my fancy contact lenses have improved my vision, there is a strength in diversity, and this applies to humbly listening to diverse opinions and ideas.