Responsively Yours: The Eye of the Beholder

Responsively Yours: The Eye of the Beholder
Responsively Yours: Harriett Jane Olson.

Sometimes I think I need new glasses. Several times in the past few months after writing an article or Facebook comment, I’ve re-read it prior to posting and found that it really didn’t say what I thought it said.

It may be true that my eyes are changing, but I think it is more likely that I am seeing what I expect to see. Our minds have strong filters that compose the reality we perceive. Photographers know this. What’s seen with the “naked eye” is not what the camera “sees.” I am not a skilled photographer, and I am continually surprised at the way electric wires appear in photos of scenes I remember as picturesque.

Our understandings and interpretation of the world around us have the same sort of impact on how we see — and report — what is happening. We are not the only ones affected by powerful framing ideas. This sort of “fitting facts into an accepted framework” is common in the media we consume.

Take, for example, an article that appeared in the Zimbabwe papers while regional missionary Grace Musuka and I were together in March: “Women Vote Blindly in Referendum.” The reporter had interviewed several women who had voted for Zimbabwe’s new constitution but were unable to explain its provisions. The new Zimbabwe Constitution affirms equal rights for men and women, a right to health care, representation in the government and limits on presidential power. However, because these several women couldn’t cite “chapter and verse,” the reporter concluded that they had voted “blindly.”

Another example of the power of our point of view is the reporting on the Steubenville, Ohio, rape convictions. Much of the coverage focused on the impact of the sentence on the perpetrators of the crime rather than the impact of the crime on the victim.

In yet another example, as I write this column, the day’s New York Times contains the obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill whose technological advances are still being used today. Its lede was, “She also makes a mean beef stroganoff” — until readers commented and the paper changed the story’s opening paragraph.

As members of United Methodist Women, we need to be alert consumers of media and ask how the viewpoint of the reporter or the broadcast or cable channel affects news coverage.

The shaping power of our experience and understanding is strong. To have a “God’s eye view” that is premised on love and equity is challenging because we have not seen it. Let’s probe and question and make way for our hope in God’s good purposes to guide our thinking. It’s a different sort of “vision correction” that will help us to perceive what is really happening and how we can make a difference.

May we look until we can see clearly and respond emphatically — doing our part in shaping how others see this world that God so loves.

Harriett Jane Olson 
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 4/30/2013 11:00:00 PM
response cover