Herald Journal Columns
March 27, 2006, Herald Journal

Can you see clearly now?

By LIZ HELLMANN
There are few things more maddening to a photographer than taking what you thought was a perfect picture, only to find out that it is out of focus.

It’s the same feeling I get when I step back and take a look at the picture, of the world around us. It is frustratingly out of focus.

The funny thing is, you would think when you are taking the picture you could tell if it was in focus or not.

So it appears, when we are caught in the crux of issues like same-sex marriage, women’s rights, crime, and gun control. It is hard to focus.

A camera lens is tiny, and perhaps smudged (of course, not on my camera).

The society we were exposed to when we were young and the type of people we are now, is usually the result of a tiny pocket of influence in our miniscule corner of the world.

When taking a picture, you look through the lens with only one eye, losing depth perception.

Likewise, the knowledge and experience we bring to issues going on around us is limited.

Because we can see everything within the viewfinder, we think we understand the whole picture, but we are lacking the fine nuances that bring the problem to light in three- dimensional clarity.

This is especially dangerous given the fact that we don’t understand we can’t see the depth of the issue until it bowls us over, camera and all.

I once read an article where a group was on a safari and one of the members rolled down the window of the van to take a picture of a leopard.

The photographer was caught up in getting the shot, and kept the lens pointed at the wild cat as it approached the van.

Members of the tour kept telling the photographer to roll up the window, the leopard was getting too close.

The photographer didn’t listen. He could see the animal through his lens, and thought he had plenty of time.

When he finally took the camera away from his face, the leopard was staring back at him from two feet away. One swift move and the leopard would have been on his lap – probably not to discuss picture royalties.

Viewing the world through our own lenses causes a similar problem when we believe what we see, and pay no attention to those around us.

After all, we can see for ourselves how it is.

We should never believe something just because everyone else around us is telling us to. But how else do we form our opinions?

For hundreds of years, it was thought OK to enslave Africans in America.

The average person thought this to be at least acceptable.

Now, the average person would balk at the very thought.

Are we smarter, or has the public as a mass merely been persuaded?

Less than a century ago, women were not allowed to vote in this country.

People of that era looked through their lenses and saw no problem. Looking through modern post-feminist lenses, that picture is clearly out of focus.

Women: if we lived 100 years ago, many of us would probably shrug our shoulders at the fact that we could not vote. It would not matter much to us.

Men: if you lived 100 years ago, you would probably laugh at the idea that your wife would have the slightest interest in the political arena, or possess intellectual ability to withstand it.

Those are the lenses you would have been given.

But now, we all have been born with our own viewfinders. The make and the model of our cameras was decided largely by what family we were born into, what gender we are, possibly even our ethnic background, and the society around us.

Not necessarily for good or for bad, but for different.

Our focus has been continually tweaked by influences around us, the media, social movements, and religious or not-so-religious factions.

If we think for only a moment that we can see all the controversial issues of our day in clear-cut, certain focus, we are merely pixelating the problem.

I’m sure people in 1889 thought they saw the picture quiet clearly; women have no place in politics.

People and groups who ardently stand for what they believe, and promote it unyielding, have backbone, but do they have the solution in mind?

Fighters behind party lines too often become trench diggers instead of problem solvers.

The issue is not who is right or wrong, but how they can boost the polls.

For example, I come from a very conservative background.

Do I think abortion is wrong? Yes. Do I think it should be made illegal. Mmmm.

The easy answer is “yes, overturn Roe vs. Wade and stop the baby killing.”

Only that won’t stop the baby killing. What it will do is drive this already heinous practice into the black market, where street doctors will maim thousands of scared young mothers.

So, what is the answer? Education. There is no quick fix for the problem. The only way is to educate people into making wise choices so that they will not be put into an unwanted situation where they too are looking for a quick fix.

Actions have consequences, whether we like it or not. An unwanted pregnancy is the result of an action, and the death of a teenage girl at the hands of a street doctor would be the result of another.

Sure, we all think we have the perfect answer for everything.

We see the picture clearly. We’ve lined up all the facts and examined them based on our experiences, our ideas, and the societal influences in our corner of the universe.

Maybe we aren’t as independent and focused as we think we are.

Sadly, if we don’t take notice now, it might be years until we realize how out of focus our ideas are, even if they do support commonly held beliefs now.

Maybe we should take a look through someone else’s lens for a change.


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