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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Dinner and a Dance

Dinner with family can be an exercise in mental and emotional calisthenics. I was reminded of this a few days ago when visiting my sister and brother-in-law who generously took in my daughter and I for most of the two weeks we were between homes. Our last supper together turned out to be an intense mental workout for all our minds.

We were sitting in a booth at Sockeye Brewing in Boise, Idaho. (Delicious food in my opinion. I can't speculate on the beer. I don't drink it.) Shortly before we left for the restaurant, we had all watched part of a Dr. Phil segment (S21E25) where Dr. Phil was bringing together groups of people from different generations in our society to foster discussion and hopefully gain understanding between them. At our little dinner table sat two Baby Boomers, one Gen X, and one Gen Z. That Dr. Phil episode had an effect on our after dinner discussions that could have gone better, but it was good fodder for my favorite hobby - observing people.

My brother-in-law, one of the Boomers, and my daughter, the Gen Zer, got into a political heated discussion. The often debated topic, throughout our nation, was about the motives of people who voted for Trump vs people who voted for Biden. I'm sure you can guess who voted for whom.

As I watched this discussion, and tried not to get wrapped into, but did anyway, I envisioned in my mind the lenses these two were seeing each other through. And, as a Gen Xer, I was trying to be mindful of the lens I had on.

What do I mean by seeing the world through a lens? When Googled, many articles and videos and books come up explaining the concept. And yet, even though the information is out there, most of us have difficulty adjusting our lenses for understanding.

Here is how I, and I am not a psychologist, understand the lens concept. Imagine my brain is a camera taking pictures of a sunset. I would choose a lens from my camera bag that best brings out the vibrant colors of yellows and oranges filling the wispy clouds while gently including the subtle darker shades of blue in the ocean waves below. That's me. However, another photographer in the same spot at the same time may choose a different lens for their camera that filters out most of the yellows making the sky less of a key feature so the foam of the ocean waves are more prominent. It's a different way of looking at the same thing.

The filter aspect on a smart phone does this too by making adjustments to an existing photo that can be subtle or remarkably different. It can erase flaws or enhance, even exaggerate, lighting effects to give a different perspective someone looking at the photo may not consciously recognize they are seeing. Mental lenses create similar mental effects usually unknowingly to the observer of an image or of a situation. Even I, the listening observer of the debate, used different lenses than they did.

Every one of us has lenses on the cameras in our minds through which we see the world. These lenses are created through our experiences. By the time we reach adulthood, we all have heavy bags carrying around these lenses. We all switch them up as we view, interact with, and judge, the world and the people around us.

These lenses happen on an individual level. But, they also happen on a family level, a group level, a cultural level, and a generational level.

An entire generation can have an experience that gives them a lens through which they see the world that another generation may not have. For example, Gen Z has the lens of school violence through assault rifles. Boomers did not live with that fear every day of school when they were children. However, Boomers had the lens of atomic bombs coming from overseas. Even though Gen Z has that too, it is not as prominent a feature in their daily lives. It is a different lens.

As I listened in on this debate between my brother-in-law and my daughter, and tried so hard to not get pulled into it, but did, I kept trying to consciously see their individual lenses they were putting on and taking off as subtle changes occurred in their discussion. For example, the ever-present political sidebar topic of immigration was pulled into the conversational gymnastics routine. The two of them have radically different lenses on that topic because while my brother-in-law is an older, white, United States born citizen, my daughter is not. She was born in another country and became a full citizen and full member of the family via adoption. Therefore, her lens on the topic is radically different. He sees her as an immigrant. She does not see herself that way.

At the same time, they each had different lenses on in the sense that as a younger person within the family hierarchy, yes - hierarchy, she is not given the full freedom to express the uncomfortableness of that topic given her birth conditions. Their lenses had a competing power differential he was not aware existed. She was. However, he also had a lens of experience she did not possess and was unable to recognize in him. He did.

In that conversation, both were putting on and taking off multiple lenses in rapid pace trying to keep up with each other. The final effect was a heated discussion on a topic neither was going to help the other gain much insight. It was an exchange like the presidential debates in the last two major elections that seemed to go in endless circles until the server brings the check and Mike Wallace asks, "Time is up! Who's paying the bill?"

When the wearing of lenses gets to be too heavy, it's time to switch analogies. How about shoes? How tight are those high heels?

Most people have heard of the Native American concept of walking a mile in another's moccasins, aka shoes, to gain understanding and hopefully have some compassion and empathy for another's struggles in life. It's a great concept with two overlooked flaws. They ain't my shoes; and, it's only a mile.

Just as it is cumbersome to remove lenses so as to see another person's perspective on something, it is also impossible to wear another's shoes comfortably enough to get a full understanding.

My son recently got married. I had a heck of a time finding the right pair of shoes for the occasion. I tried on pair after pair keeping in mind these lenses: They had to be dressy enough. They had to match my dress and purse. They had to not squeak down the aisle. They had to be comfortable enough to wear all day and dance in all night. And, they had to show off my lovely pedicure.

I never found the perfect pair. I ended up getting two pairs of shoes. I got one uncomfortable pair for the ceremony that were opened toed sandals in a neutral color that emphasized my pedicure and my dress; and a second pair of flashy athletic shoes, all sparkly and comfortable, so I could dance all night.

The thing with shoes is that as a person wears them, they adjust and contort to fit the feet of the wearer better - until they wear out and tear. In other words, whether I am thrust into the shoes of another through passing judgment in them or voluntarily put on the shoes of another to gain understanding, the shoes will not fit me right no matter what I do to make them more comfortable for me. They are not my shoes. And, one mile is not equal to one hundred miles.

That does not mean I shouldn't try them on. I should. A little understanding is way better than walking away.

And I shouldn't assume it is best to look at the world without my lenses. The reality of life would cause blindness. The world is a hard place. Lenses help give focus and can even enhance beauty.

By the way, how do you like my dance shoes? Fun and flashy!

Thanks for reading.


Humor In Chaos


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