Lately it seems that folks are in constant conflict over a variety of issues and the default attitude is to vilify people with differing opinions.
What can the global debate that ensued last year over the color of a particular dress teach us about how to navigate these contentious times?
The dress debate started when the mother of a Scottish bride-to-be sent her daughter a photo she took of the dress she planned to wear to the wedding. Many saw the color of the dress dramatically differently. Some saw it as white and gold and others saw it as blue and black. The photo was posted on line and it went viral as the debate raged on.
When I saw the photo, I thought “How silly, of course it’s white and gold?” But my husband said it was blue and black.
I tried tilting the screen, looking at it on my phone, my tablet, still white and gold, maybe a little periwinkle if I squinted. Then one day I was freaked out to see it as blue and black. Now it’s different every time I look at it.
Much to the chagrin of the 67 percent who, according to a Buzzfeed poll, saw it as white and gold the dress is actually a royal blue and black.
The science behind why people see it differently has something to do with the way the photo was taken, the way the brain interprets colors, indoor lighting vs. natural lighting and other factors.
Bottom line: People are wired differently, we see things differently and the way we see things can change.
There are some important lessons to learn from the dress debate, especially as we find ourselves at odds with folks in our community over things like school assignments, bathrooms, politics or religion.
An obvious truth to one person can be a falsehood to another.
When we find ourselves in such situations it’s good to step back and think to ourselves, “Is it possible there is another way to look at this?” “Is it possible that ‘gasp’ I may be wrong?” “Is it possible there are parallel ‘truths’?”
Many of us are good at talking about our perspective, but it is imperative that we learn to listen to the perspectives of others. If we do, we may learn to see things differently; we may be able to see the truth on both sides or we may continue to see things the way we always believed them to be. But, at minimum we can learn that there are other perspectives, which is important when living in a pluralistic society.
Although there are things we are certain are true (especially when it comes to matters of faith), it is important to acknowledge that others may not be able to see our truth, but that doesn’t make them the enemy.
The Quran offers guidance about how to engage with people of other religions:
Do not argue with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) unless it be in the best manner, except for those who commit injustice among them. Tell the Jews and Christians, “We believe in what is revealed to us and to you. Our God and your God is one, and to Him do we submit.” Quran 29:46
When you find yourself in conflict with another, remember the lessons of the dress debate: people are wired differently; the majority is not always correct; and how we see things can change.
Also, remember to speak to each other in the “best manner.”
Rose Hamid is president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas