Getting Right View Wrong
“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
Jane Austen, Persuasion
When it comes to the Eightfold Path, we don’t master the first step and then move on to the next. They are interconnected. For the sake of understanding, though, let’s revisit just one: Right View.
To review, Right View refers to what we perceive and how we perceive it. We all take in the world through our senses, but we process information differently. Right means wholesome, as in I’m not causing suffering for myself or others.
Remember the dress incident in 2015? Some people saw a dress that was white and gold, others blue and black when they looked at the same photo. The linked 2017 article explains these differing views. It turns out that some of us are larks (early morning risers) and experience more natural light, whereas owls, (late to bed and late to rise) are exposed to more incandescent light. Being a lark or an owl made the brain fill in all sorts of blanks when seeing the picture, and those of us who are larks saw the dress wrong. Yep, it’s gold and white for me because sleeping late for me is 7:30 am at the latest. But that original dress is black and blue. I can’t see it.
Another great example is a study of radiologistswho were told to review x-rays of lungs for cancerous nodules. The x-rays included a superimposed picture of a gorilla, and 83 percent of radiologists missed it because they were primed to look for those much-harder-to-see cancerous nodules. We see what we are looking for.
This is why Thich Nhat Hanh suggests asking ourselves frequently, “Are you sure?”
In the case of the radiologists, the suffering that might result is obvious. The attention bias could lead to missing a different medical problem than the one they were so intent on looking for.
At a more mundane level, the kind of suffering that results from the dress differences can mean a kind of chronic suffering that adds up over time. When we forget that we are operating from a perspective and could be wrong, we are more likely to be unnecessarily self righteous and more divisive. Such thinking creates ill will, defensiveness, and boundaries.
Jane Austen certainly understood this. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s initial opinion of Darcy comes from his slighting her at a dance. He was rude. She’s not wrong. But she’s unable to see him any differently afterwards for much of the novel, leading to her then getting things wrong—like being totally shocked when he proposes because she thought he disliked her!
The Eightfold Path is a practice. To practice Right View, pause, remember that you are operating from a perspective, ask are you sure, and consider how your own bias may be operating.
Photo Courtesy of Leona Wilde