Through the Lenses We Choose

jglasses2On Friday afternoon, my 16-year old daughter and her friend giggled as they insisted I look at a picture from earlier that day.

In the photo, my daughter, who wears her glasses more than she wears her contacts, had placed several of her friends’ glasses over her own.

She was laughing with delight at the image of all those glasses perched on her nose. But just looking at the picture made my head hurt because trying to see the world through multiple lenses can be painful.

It’s so painful, in fact, that many of us avoid doing it.

But we should.

I was reminded of that this week when I begrudgingly attended a continuing education program that I needed to keep my social work license. The licensure requirements recently changed to include at least two hours about mental health issues for veterans, which was the topic of the workshop.

As soon as I entered the classroom, I realized that not all of us were there solely because we wanted to keep our licenses.

When I sat down, the older gentleman sitting directly across from me explained that, even though he wasn’t a social worker, he was interested in the topic.

He was a veteran he said as he gestured to a woman sitting near us who was wearing a hijab.

“I was taught to kill people like that,” he said to me. “Now I’m being told to accept them.”

I’m not even sure what hackles are, but I immediately felt mine go up.  His words were in direct opposition to everything I’ve been raised to believe:

  • America was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
  • Christians aren’t supposed to judge people who are different than we are.
  • Good people don’t want to harm others based on their beliefs.

With only a few words, this man who had spent most of his life in service to my country, made me question both his ethics and the agenda of our country’s military.

Only hours later, after listening to a presentation about military culture, hearing from family members of veterans, and getting bombarded with statistics, did I realize the man was crying.

A colleague was trying to comfort him as tears rolled down his cheeks. He was explaining how difficult adjusting to civilian life has been for him.

That’s when I realized the entire purpose of the continuing education requirement:  I needed to understand that lens through which Veterans like him might view the world. He isn’t a bad man. He’s actually a good man who is living in a culture with conflicting message and ideals.

That was only one of the many reminders about different lenses that I’ve been getting recently.

For example, I had to change the lens through which I saw a childhood friend whom I’d envied for having everything I didn’t: a sense of style; easy popularity; a beautiful bedroom; horses and even a boat. She recently revealed that her stepfather had molested her for years in the house where I’d spent so many hours. In fact, she had envied me for my ability to express exactly what I was thinking and feeling while she kept everything bottled up.

I’ve had to change the lens through which I view some of the frustrating low-income clients who walk into our office after continually make poor choices. New medical findings show how poverty and childhood stress literally change brain structure.

I’ve had to change the lens through which I perceive people who allude to Fox News or share clips of Sarah Huckabee Sanders citing a recycled email. I have to remind myself to try to see the world through their tinted lens colored by dogma, lack of information, priorities, fear and their beliefs about their own circumstances.

Unlike my daughter, I’m not going to subject myself to a headache by putting on several pairs of real glasses that will make the world blurry. But I am going to try a little harder to look through the lenses that other people choose to share with me.

And in return, I hope they take time to look through mine as well.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on November 5, 2017, in Family, My life, people and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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