Many of you will know what the title of this post is referring to before I even write a word about it.
My introduction to The Dress happened as I was on my way into the gym one morning at the end of February, 2015. The fuzzy image caught my eye because it was pressed in a Plexiglas frame usually reserved for maintenance announcements and schedule changes.
'Is this a joke?'
'No.' said the girl behind the counter. 'What colour is the dress?'
Clearly, the dress in the picture was blue and black. I didn't understand the question. Neither, apparently, did the girl behind the counter.
'It tells you something about your personality, depending on what colour you see.'
'So if I see it as blue and black, what does that tell you about me?'
Having failed to memorize the dress personality cheat sheet before work, the behind-the-counter girl retreated even further back-- to behind the computer screen-- and pretended to type something.
"Um, like, you're optimistic maybe?' she said in the direction of her keyboard, having lost interest in the conversation, or else having discovered something dark and threatening about me due to my interpretation of the photograph.
Standing in line at the coffee shop later that morning, I got to wondering about what might have happened if I'd told the girl I'd seen the dress as violet or burnt umber. I Googled 'what colour is the dress,' fairly confident that it would show up on at least the first page of hits. I was shocked, however, when I saw that it was actually a number-one news item across many different platforms and media outlets, from BBC to Perez Hilton. Also, there were only two colour options-- blue and black or cream and gold, and while some people swore it was one way, others were adamant that it was the other.
Despite the numerous and differing expert opinions that the articles quoted, it seemed there was nothing conclusive that could be said about your personality based solely on the way you saw the dress, which I thought to be kind of a shame. Can you imagine finally being able to say with some authority: 'There are only two kinds of people in the world...'
Maybe there really are only two kinds of people, in terms of visual perception... or is there a third or even fourth subset of people who see the dress -- and the world at large-- in an entirely different way? Pink and teal means you like to steal? Sage and khaki says you're wacky? Is there a chartreuse and bordeaux dress camp out there? Are they definitively well mannered? Do they all speak French? Maybe we should all be walking around with paint chips stapled to our lapels. It would save us so much of the time and energy we spend trying to figure people out. Summer Storm Grey and Cardinal ? Ugh. can I switch cubicles? I simply MUST work near people with Easter hues.
Still awaiting my turn to order coffee, I turned and showed my phone's screen to the person behind me in line. She studied the it and said she saw a white dress with gold trim. The barista had obviously been fielding the question all morning. 'Black and blue-- cool right?' she said as she handed me my drink.
In a fit of distraction today, more than two years after the story first broke, I tried Googling the dress again. It was blue and black. I tried opening the image on another site. Blue and black. I tried a third and... struck GOLD. The dress was unmistakably white with gold trim. I couldn't believe it. And then, all of a sudden, the dress turned blue and black again, right before my eyes! It was if a switch had been flipped, and there was no turning it back. I thought at first that it was a function of the website, meant to demonstrate the different colours that the dress could be -- but it wasn't. No amount of refreshing the page or looking at the dress on other sites turned it back to gold for me.
That is, no more sites turned it back for a while, but as I was closing my browser tabs one at a time, the white dress appeared once more. I tried looking away and looking back; still white and gold. I tried looking at it through my phone and-- black and blue! What had I done? I looked at part of the dress, I looked through each eye, I looked from near and from far, and I looked at in the shade and near a window. I imagined myself in a dark room and then in a brightly lit yard. No matter what I tried, I could not intentionally change my perception of the dress, and I could not figure out what factors influenced the colour that my brain would settle on.
There is, I think, a lesson to be taken from The Dress: The importance of humility. In team work, leadership, and society at large, humility is a trait that enables us to mentally reconcile disparate opinions and experiences. The fact that The Dress is perceived completely differently by different people, and the fact that this experiment is easily replicated, makes it evident that one person's truth can be really, legitimately, and completely divergent from that of another. We don't always have to agree with one another-- in fact, always agreeing might be impossible. However, when we're feeling arrogant, it's helpful to remember that two people can be looking at the exact same thing, and that both can perceive it in completely different ways. While their argument may seem inconceivable to us, it's helpful to consider that our version of events might appear equally impossible to them. Once humility is achieved, it's much easier for common goals to be attained.
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