By Douglas Withrow - 11/10/2020


I was much younger — much less patient. My oldest daughter was 4 years old. We were driving into a light rain in spite of a bright sun, running to the store after a particularly frustrating day. Turning a corner, stretching across the sky directly in front of us, was a beautiful, full rainbow. It brought a smile. I quickly pointed it out to my daughter, who appeared confused by my excitement. She did not see it. Now I was confused. I pointed it out again, so obviously filling the sky in our front windshield. “I don’t see it.” I became frustrated knowing that she can be a little oppositional, saying, “Look right in front of us. It’s right there.” Still, nothing. We pulled into the store parking lot, and a bit exasperated I insisted, “There!” As I said this, I pulled off my sunglasses… the rainbow disappeared before my eyes.

In relationships, it is tempting to forget that our perceptions are shaped by the lenses we wear. These lenses are not so easily removed like sunglasses, but they need to be recognized, regardless. Lenses that shape us include family or origin, trauma, emotional resources, financial resources, communities, faith, education, genetics, and opportunities. When we fail to acknowledge our influences we can be judgmental, harsh, demanding, and lack empathy. However, when we understand how we have been shaped by life circumstances, we not only empower ourselves to be intentional about who we want to become, but we also can be more empathetic and understanding of others who do not share our experience.

When you find that you are at odds with someone important to you, first slow down. Take a minute, draw a deep breath and remember you care about this person. Second, acknowledge that you see the situation differently and reframe it as interesting rather than evidence of right or wrong. Third, get curious, asking clarifying questions, stretching yourself to really understand their perspective. Fourth, express empathy. This act of care creates safety in a relationship, and when we feel safe, different perspective seem less threatening. Finally, reaffirm your love, care, or friendship, even in the face of disagreement. Ultimately, acknowledge that you have a life lens and so does each person for whom you care. Acknowledging those lenses leads to a path to greater understanding, connection, and intimacy.

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