The Dress Color Controversy Proves None of Us Understand Each Other

9:00 AM

It's gold and white, right?!
What color is this dress?

I stayed up way too late freaking out over this along with every other female across the internet. It's white and gold. How can it not be anything other than the obvious white and gold? 

Some people see it as black and blue. Some people see it as a dumb middle school trick that's not even worth investigating. (This is why God gave us cynical boyfriends.) Some people, like me, see it as gold and white and are so agitated that they wake up their more color-sensitive roommates. She sees it as gold and white too. Phew.

Problem: The dress is actually blue and black. So much for confidence in basic human senses.

By now, you've probably all learned that other people see things differently than you. Your conversations with said different people may seem as ridiculous as the what color is this dress problem: It's clearly this, isn't it? No, it clearly isn't.

I stopped believing in self-evident truth a long time ago. There may be such a thing as self-evident truth, but the contents of self-evident truth seem pretty controversial right now. As usual.

Before I accidentally slip into using cliche references to homosexuality and abortion, I'm going to cut straight to what I want to say: You need to expect that every single differing perspective and different person will be as tricky to understand as the dress color controversy.

When I started dating -- back up. When I started making close friends of any sort, I automatically assumed that there were basic facts that everyone that was anyone knew. Only recently did I realize that nobody understands me perfectly. Nobody. And I don't understand anyone perfectly. No one.

For instance, my roommate announced to me that she had just discovered that people need a place to belong. I stared at her. "Wait. You just figured this out?"


"Claire. Everybody knows that people need a place to belong."

Apparently they don't.

Or take another example: "You don't love me."

"What do you mean I don't love you?"

"You don't text me back anymore."

"What?! I've been busy. I still love you. I'm just busy. Do you really need a text to prove I love you?"

"If you loved me, you would text me back! Don't you know this? It's basic relationship communication 101!"

Except it isn't.

Well, here's my new revelation that might seem like basic communication 101 too: Everyone speaks an entirely different language. Not a dialect. A language. We're all tourists in a foreign country, scraping by with little phrases and words and lots of hand gestures. We're all a little bit lost, figuring it out, second-guessing our interpretation. When you're a tourist in a foreign country (which I'm assuming is similar to taking a Spanish class, except with a lot less cool architecture), you always ask the foreign speaker for clarification: "That's how you say dog, right?" You're a listener and a learner.

This will revolutionize your conversations. First you'll realize how cool that different person is. Second you'll learn how to speak her language -- you'll understand what she means when she says this, when she does that, when she disagrees with whatever. Third -- you'll rarely call someone's differing opinion stupid. That's like the foreigner saying, "Yes, dog is perro" and you saying, "That's the stupidest thing ever." You'll never communicate with that kind of attitude.

That's not to say that all languages make sense. That's like saying that seeing a gold-and-white dress as blue-and-black makes sense. (Just kidding, just kidding.) Languages are irrational. Ask any kid who went through eighth grade Rod & Staff English. My native language is about as crazy, confusing, and unintuitive as you can get.

People are like that too. Their opinions and perspectives don't always make sense -- not within your belief system, not even within theirs, sometimes. But you will never change anyone's mind by shouting at her in German. You need to speak her language. And it's a huge barrier to hurdle -- as huge as convincing someone that this dress really is gold-and-white in the photo no matter how black-and-blue it is in real life.

Different languages, different eyes. Understanding requires a lot more patience and humility than you ever thought.

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4 impressions

  1. My daughter first called my attention to the dress color thing, but after that I, like everyone else, was bombarded with it from all sides. Many used it similar to the way you do, to talk about understanding and perspective. I just found myself saying over and over, "Yeah, but . . . the dress actually *is* blue and black." While apparently some people were marveling over the bizarre color illusion, my daughter and I had become convinced this was some sort of mass hoax and all the "gold-and-white" people were actually lying. Eventually we read some scientific explanations for why people see the picture differently and I accept that. My daughter even says she can see it both ways now. I guess she is more open-minded than me, because even today I scrolled the picture on your post to look at it moving and squinted and then opened my eyes really wide and tried looking from the edges and focusing on different parts of the dress and with a lot of effort I can sort of see the darker parts of the dress as a kind of bronzy brown. Try as I might the blue remains stubbornly blue. Hmm . . . maybe it is a good metaphor for communication and understanding and acceptance after all . . .

    1. You make me laugh! I thought people who saw it as black and blue were perpretating so kind of hoax. :P After scrolling through so many photos of this dress, I can see it as blue and black when I'm not thinking about it. Hopefully this means I'm following my own advice??

  2. I got up to Grade & in Rod and Staff English... I find it extremely logical. Just sayin...

    1. I meant that ENGLISH isn't logical. (At least to me!) It's full of exceptions and caveats and weird spellings. Rod & Staff makes it about as logical as it gets. ;) Thanks for commenting, Leah!


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