seeing through a new lens

I’m not sure where I heard the following tale, but I’ve thought of it often over the years:

A boy and girl crept into their grandfather’s bedroom as he slept, and they smeared a healthy dose of potent smelling cheese across his mustache. When the grandfather awoke, he said, “Oh goodness, this room smells like cheese.” As he descended the stairs, he said aloud, “Oh goodness, this whole house smells like cheese.” He then picked up his pace, rushed toward a window, flung it open and stuck his head out into the morning air. A terrible look came upon his face as he exclaimed, “Oh my goodness gracious, the whole WORLD smells like cheese.”

The instructive value of seeing how the cheese determined what the grandfather could smell in the world is the analogy we can make to how the ‘lens’ through which we look at life determines what we ‘see.’

how we view reality

perspectives from philosophy

Frederick Nietzsche wrote about perspectivalism, the idea that his fellow philosophers’ ideas (and presumably his own) were basically expressions of their own autobiographies. I think he’d agree that the same is true with all of us, that when we make declarations about what we think is true about life and the world, we are communicating much about who we are, how we think and what our character consists of.

Thomas Kuhn wrote about paradigms; he became famous for arguing that scientists were beholden to the paradigm (worldview) that dominated their time/place in history. In this way, Kuhn challenged the idea of universal scientific objectivity.

Ludwig Wittgenstein began his career arguing the merits of objective logic but ended his career by outlining a new method of philosophy designed to change peoples’ “ways of seeing.”

perspectives from psychotherapy

Aaron Beck, one of the founders of the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy used the word schema to refer to the underlying ways in which we humans see and interpret the information in front of us. Our schema, he said, determines whether we have constructive or destructive expectations about our lives.

Jeffrey Young, a student of Beck’s, went on to create what he called schema therapy, a therapeutic approach built upon these ideas.

Albert Ellis, another of the founders of the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy, spoke often about how a large segment of psychological problems stemmed from our natural inclination as children to adopt views of ourselves (and the world) that, in adulthood, turned out to be very self-defeating. Such toxic (neurotic) lenses, he argued, served to distort reality, obscure possibilities and render people miserable.

through what lens are you viewing yourself, the world and your future?

Is your current lens over-determined by (1) the opinions that others had/have about you and your life; (2) hardships and challenges you have faced; (3) the relentless barrage of media, advertising and consumer culture?

Does your lens need some upgrading? Do you need to make it a bit less self-defeating and a bit more life-building?

self-defeating lens life-building lens
1. I must please others and win approval in order to feel good about myself. 1. My intention is to be true to myself as I also try to exhibit love and respect toward others.
2. I must be perfect and make a good appearance at all times. 2. I am aware and accepting of my strengths and limitations, my assets and my vulnerabilities.
3. People are not to be trusted and I must protect myself from them. 3. I can learn to trust worthy people and to take care of myself in relationships.
4. It’s not ok to let go and live spontaneously. It’s not safe for me to let down my guard. 4. It’s ok to let go and be more spontaneous. It’s good for me to take healthy emotional risks.
5. The future is basically bleak and scary. 5. What the future holds depends mostly on how I live, one day at a time.

These are just examples – there are many ways to describe the different lenses we can utilize as we go about the business of living.

Life requires that we take responsibility for the lens through which we view ourselves, our lives and the world. The good news is – while life will never be perfect or pain-free – as we upgrade our lens, we begin to see opportunities and possibilities that we were previously blind to.


leave a reply