True Love is Never Blind

“The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

imagesLike so many things in life, the email over promised and under delivered. Snagging my attention with the subject line by Ticketmaster, “Your Personalized Event Line Up,” I assumed that this was a select and targeted list of local events I would find interesting and therefore, might want to attend. I am out of the loop when it comes to the entertainment options in my city, and so I opened the email with a bit of excitement to see what curated fun looks like.

Putting aside for the moment the fear I should have of the Big Eye in the Sky that records and logs for eternity each preference, purchase and Google search I ever made, I was willing to sacrifice my privacy for the sake of the convenience of algorithms that know me better perhaps than any human being.  With a very wide and eclectic range of interests, I was curious: “Oh holy data gatherer who sees all, when you look at me, what do you see?”

As I started to scroll down the suggested list of entertainers, I was puzzled: never heard of ‘em, never heard of em, never heard of em. “Peppa Pig’s Surprise,” which I assume is a show for children, or for butchers, or maybe a twisted animal revenge theme, is playing on a Friday night (Shabbat) in a theater about two and a half hours from my home. Three strikes. I continued to scroll down the email to see ads for boxing, football, and other attractions you couldn’t pay me to see; obviously, this list was not tailored to my tastes whatsoever. Offended by its false promise, I deleted the email and unsubscribed from the site, frustrated that my inbox seems to fill up with impersonal mass marketing emails faster than I can delete them.

The Need to Feel Special

After the flash of self-righteous indignation passed, I felt a little bit pathetic. Ugh. Wounded Child strikes again, looking to be acknowledged as a unique individual rather than a commodity – even by an innocuous online marketing service. Says clinical psychologist Edward A. Dreyfus: “The need to feel special is common to human beings. We want to know that we matter to others; we want to be seen.  We strive to achieve some special status in the eyes of others; how we are viewed by others matters to us.”[1]

To See and Be Seen

In Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, after our basic needs for shelter and safety are met, human beings have psychological needs, such as belonging and love, which are satisfied by intimate relationships and friends. Intimacy, best understood as the oft-quoted phrase, “Into Me See,” can only exist when others truly see us. To be truly seen, however, depends on the courage to be vulnerable. The willingness to disclose our inner selves, in the face of fear of rejection, is nothing short of an audacious act of bravery. This takes real love, genuine connection, and sincere empathy. Unless you sincerely know someone, how can you truly see this person? And without seeing, how can you say you love him or her?

What Do We Se

“Re’eh” means “see,” where Moses is telling the Jewish people: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” While we may think the difference between a blessing and a curse is obvious, it is not.   First, we don’t have objective eyes that see reality clearly, in that we constantly filter out sensations and billions of bits of information per second. Our attention is discriminating, and therefore, we can fail to see what is in front of our face. Take the Selective Attention Test and see for yourself.  Second, we have biases that shape those bits of information into personal meaning. We all watch the news. We all see the same videos. But each of us processes the information according to our values and standards. And with a predisposed bias, we see what we are looking for – 100% of the time.

Looking with Godly Eyes

In the words of author Brad Meltzer, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else.” So it’s not a coincidence that the biblical term for sexual intimacy is “to know.” True knowledge, however, requires the commitment of time and investing in the relationship. But unless we look at the people we love with the right lens, our vision is faulty. We maximize the bad and minimize the good, sometimes to the point of no longer seeing the positive – even when it is in front of our face. Whether you see a challenging situation as the blessing of growth-waiting-to-happen, or a bitter disappointment depends on you. Therefore, God exhorts us to see reality – not with our eyes – but to train ourselves to see reality with Godly eyes. For when we fail to see and appreciate our blessings, then we are truly cursed.

[1] http://docdreyfus.com/psychologically-speaking/the-need-to-feel-special/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

Believing is Seeing

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for.

In the same field the farmer will notice the crop,

the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers,

artists the coloring, sportsmen the cover for the game.

Though we may all look at the same things,

it does not all follow that we should see them.”

  • John Lubbock

There’s a saying – “You can talk about politics and religion. Or you can have friends.” How many gatherings end on a sour note, and how many conversations end with hurt feelings when conversations turn to these subjects? It’s frightening how quickly a discussion can go from civil to caustic, each side usually advocating a one-dimensional version of reality as the uncontroverted truth.

Perception has come to be synonymous with reality, but perception depends less on what we see than who we are. Says Robertson Davies, “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Basically, what we see when we look, is a choice, in that we see what we’re looking for.

Perception Bias

A few years ago, the theory of “Perception Bias” was tested by placing Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, in the DC Metro. Playing some of the most sublime music ever composed, on a violin worth several million dollars, Joshua Bell played in front of thousands of streaming commuters, who wouldn’t even look at him. Curious toddlers – not yet permeated with perception bias – who wanted to stop and listen, were yanked along by impatient parents, who were not interested in a subway musician. I wonder if any of those who walked on by were among the concert-goers who paid a hundred bucks or more to hear Mr. Bell perform that very evening.

Our brains process billions of bits of information per second, yet we can only process a few dozen of them. Our brains choose which infinitesimal sliver – out of all the possible reality to look at – and then our bias tells us how to interpret that sliver. It’s all a choice – believe it or not. Thus, our perceptions are biased. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

This week’s Torah portion, “Re’eh,” which means “See,” tells us to look at the choices before us, to see life and death, blessings and curses – and to choose life. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil . . . blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Well, that’s pretty easy, isn’t it? I think anyone can get that one right. But just to make sure, we are told which choice to make, in case we lack in the clarity department. If we need to be directed to make the “obvious” choice, is it possible that the choice is not obvious? Maybe we don’t see things as clearly as we think we do. Or do we intentionally obfuscate? We must not be so sure what we are seeing – or else why be told which is the better choice?

Making Perception Bias Work for You

 First, we must be decide what it is we want to see, because we always and inevitably find what we are looking for. The Talmud teaches this concept that one who says he has looked but hasn’t found, don’t believe him. If he says he has found and hasn’t looked, don’t believe him. Only the one who says he has both looked and has found can be believed (Megillah 6). And yet no one is without perception bias – the question is how can we make that work for us instead of against us? The answer is that it’s a choice we make.

Do you want to find something to criticize in a person? You will. Do you want to find the negative in a situation? You will. Thoreau said that a faultfinder will find fault – even in paradise. You want to see the good in a person or a situation? You will. Do you wish you could see your life as filled with blessings and not curses? You can.

Moses tells us that when we choose to see Torah as life-giving and then make choices so as to live in alignment with that reality, we are choosing life. But it’s not easy and certainly not obvious, given the state of illusion of this world. Often, we are enamored of things and actions that are anti-Torah, and we make choices, in effect, where we are confused between blessings and curses; life and death.

The Torah is called the Tree of Life, and a tree has many branches and many leaves. Look at it. Look at it with the deliberate intention of seeing something good, of seeing something in a new light, anything really, that will help you be a better, kinder person, that will help you get a little bit closer to God and a little more loving of your fellow man. Just one leaf. And then choose it and act consistently with your choice. Learn the meaning of life, and then choosing the blessings life has to offer, becomes a no-brainer.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Write down five things you don’t like about yourself. Be honest and blunt. Now, right next to those rewrite those very five things into something positive. This is not about finding five different things you do like, but about liking the five things you don’t like (ie. “I am fat and hate my body” vs. “My body has carried and birthed my children and given them life.”
  1. Being that we see what we are looking for, what are some things you want to be seeing in your life? Are you looking in the right places for them? Are you looking with the right eyes to find them? Why or why not? What can you do differently?
  1. Do others see you the way you want to be seen? What can you do differently so that when people look at you they see your beauty and the amazing person you truly are?