Do you remember the Great Dress Debacle of 2015?
The internet exploded on a February afternoon when a young woman posted a photo of a dress, asking whether it was white and gold or blue and black. Those of us who are reasonable said it was white and gold, obviously. Those who cannot see properly disagreed.
My mom and brother agreed that it was white and gold. My dad and sister believed it was blue and black. My friends couldn’t come to a consensus, and talks of the dress completely drowned out all other conversations on social media. The debate was covered on the news as celebrities, teachers, professionals, and scientists weighed in on the color of the dress, and we all dug our heels in, dismissing those who disagreed with us as visually impaired. I even wondered if the people who said they saw blue and black were telling the truth… it seemed so absurd that anyone could possibly see it differently from me! I was a white and gold believer, defender, and evangelist.
Then, after a few days of heated debate, the truth came out: the dress was not, in fact, white and gold. It was definitely blue and black. I was dumbfounded, unsure if I believed it. Surely my eyes have not betrayed me this way. There must be something nefarious at work here. Is there something wrong with my phone screen? Did someone intentionally make the lighting ambiguous in order to confuse people? Knowing that I had been wrong, I squinted and tilted my head and held my phone as far away from my face as I could, then just inches from my nose, but I still couldn’t see the blue and black dress. It was white and gold to me.
I tell you this story because as silly as it is, it is strikingly similar to the journey I’m on now in so many areas of my life — particularly the journey of awakening.
I have spent so many years feeling certain that I am right. From my beliefs and values, to my habits and the company I keep, I am very accustomed to believing I am 100% right… pretty much 100% of the time. But that feeling of certainty has all but vanished over the past few years as I’ve begun to realize that when I meet someone who doesn’t look like me, act like me, or think like me, it’s most likely because their lived experience is entirely different than mine. They likely know things I don’t. They have probably seen things I haven’t. They may have answers to questions I’ve never even asked.
For so long, my mission in life was to make people see things the way I saw them. But these days, I spend a lot of time squinting, tilting my head, backing up, moving in closer, and most importantly, listening to the people who have clearer vision than I do.
When the person who owns the dress says it’s blue and black, who am I to argue that it’s white and gold? When someone who has been hurt tells me about their pain, who am I to dismiss it? When someone who is afraid shares their fear, who am I to ignore it?
This season has been tumultuous and scary in more ways than one, but I remain hopeful. I believe that it is possible to choose community with each other over false certainty. I believe we can grow more from one minute of listening to others whose realities are different than ours than we can grow from one year of shouting our own opinions. I believe that our hearts can be softened and our eyes can be opened when we choose to invest in the lives of our neighbors more than we do our reputation of being “right.”
Right now, as I squint and tilt my head to look at the dress photo, I know the colors are blue and black. I have looked at the picture so many times at this point that I can kind of see it, but mostly my eyes still want to see white and gold. No matter how I perceive the photo, though, I know that my perception is not the only perception, and more importantly, I know that my perception is not reality. I will never see that dress in person, but I still believe that it’s blue and black.
I’m working to do this in real life too. I may never know anyone else’s lived experience, whether it pertains to race, politics, or religion, but I can listen. I can get close up and try to adjust my eyes. I can open my heart and my mind, I can love those who are different from me, and I can let go of my need to be certain about everything all the time.
After all, we have nothing if we don’t have love, and the only way to move forward is to do so together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kayla Funk is the Founder and Creative Director of Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding childhood cancer research. Through her own journey with cancer and advocacy work, her faith has been challenged, and she has developed a relentless passion for compassion. Today Kayla believes her work in the world is to be a listening ear and a soft place to land for others who need an extra dose of love, support, and grace in their lives.