Seeing in a New Way

By Claire Louge, Executive Director

One of my favorite classes in college was an elective: Intro to Design. The professor told us our first assignment would teach us how to see differently. The task: we were given two weeks to find each letter of the alphabet. 

Easy, right? No. 

The challenge was that these couldn’t be actual written or printed letters. We needed to find them formed in shapes in our surroundings, like in nature or human-made objects. We were also told that we could not manipulate things into forming the letters; they needed to be found as-is. To get full credit, we needed to produce a photograph of all 26 letters in the alphabet. 

I became obsessed with this assignment. It was hard not to be. As soon as I started, I couldn’t stop searching my surroundings for potential letters, and when I searched, it was remarkable how much I found. I would take walks around campus just looking for a Q or an R or a P – whatever I hadn’t found yet. At the end of two weeks, I had photographs of letters formed by branches, furniture, faucets, garbage, rock formations, clouds, and much more. 

I had trained myself to view the world in a different way. 

We are constantly surrounded by things, people, and stimuli. What this assignment taught me is that by changing what we want to notice, we change what we find. But unless we deliberately choose to, we don’t tend to examine the default lenses through which we are already viewing the world. Our lens, however, determines our choices and actions.

This has big implications for our work with families. The way that we see a child, parent, or family affects how we behave towards them. How we see people is how we treat them.

If we have been trained only to look for risks, threats, and problems, our minds will constantly look for and find them. If we view families exclusively through this lens of risk and deficit, we will not be able to nurture positive change. If, however, we deliberately train ourselves to look for strengths – for the ways in which families are already capable and resilient – we’ll find those, too. How we see impacts what we do.

This is why it is critically important to establish a shared lens – including values and intentions – before embarking on work with others. If one person views families as entities to be surveilled and corrected, and another person views families as entities who are capable and resilient, these people will inevitably disagree on how to work with families. 

Establishing a shared lens requires an examination of our existing lenses, as unexamined lenses are the birthplace of bias. How we see families affects how we treat them. How we treat them affects how things turn out for them. 

Let’s examine how we view families. We can change the way we see, and in doing so, change the way we do. If we only search for risks, we will see risks everywhere, and we will miss the opportunity to find and build on strength. What we focus on expands. To work towards a world where all families are able to nurture their children, we must start by viewing families as capable.