Revisiting ‘The Dress:’ A lesson in respecting your neighbor

By Connor Fulton

(DonkeyHotey/ Flickr)

(DonkeyHotey/ Flickr)

Blue and black? White and gold?

On Feb. 26, 2015, “The Dress” emerged on Tumblr and etched its name into the viral history of the internet. For a period of time in late February and early March, the dress dominated social media networks, water cooler conversations and first-date icebreakers as the very epitome of polarization. If you had eyes, you had an opinion on the matter. You fell into one of two categories and you could not comprehend how others could see the dress differently.

Battle lines were drawn. The Washington Post declared it a “drama that divided the planet,” a claim supported by the emergence of the hashtags “#blueandblack” and “#whiteandgold” that funneled conversation on Twitter, further feeding the fire of polarization. Astoundingly, you could observe a roomful of sane individuals batter and banter about the topic, each strongly opposed to understanding how anyone could see the dress in a different color.

Twenty months later, millions of Americans are once again arguing over the colors they see but with much more at stake.

The question is simple: Which color should we choose to paint our white canvas house? The choices parallel the dress, with Democrat blue pitted against Republican red. At the very root of our nation’s looming decision is the same phenomenon that was at play with the dress: Human beings have vast differences in how they interpret a polarizing set of options.

Polarization stems from the act of impression. In the case of the dress, impression takes the form of literally just laying eyes on the dress. From there, the nervous system translates the sight into a message to send to your brain and you have an impression – a belief – of the dress’ color.

Now, deciding on the direction of our nation’s next four years and beyond is a much more complex deliberation than simply looking at a blurry picture of an overpriced dress and blurting out its color. Hundreds of issues, from taxes to terrorism, gel and mold around these candidates.

For all the ambiguity surrounding what a candidate will actually do as president, there are concrete items in view when we look at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In short, Clinton is a relay racer taking the baton from President Barack Obama. Some see that as a relief, but others see it as a nightmare without cease. Trump, well, he is something new on the political scene. Some see that as refreshing and exciting, but others view it as extremely worrisome and detrimental to democracy as we know it.

Everyone has an opinion when they view the dress or consider a polarizing political issue and no one can help believing what they see.

For instance, let’s say we have Sally, a solar panel-owning schoolteacher living in Sunderland who sees Trump as terror and Clinton as comfort. Additionally, we could have Sam, a Syrian refugee-opposing stockbroker in Springfield who sees Clinton as corruption and Trump as triumph. When Sally saw the dress flicker across her Facebook feed, she concluded it was white and gold. Upon encountering the dress, Sam declared that it was black and blue. Sally and Sam have differing views on polarizing issues such as global warming and immigration, just like they have differing impressions of the dress’ color.

No matter what transpires on Nov. 8, Sally and Sam will pass each other on Route 116 as they drive to their respective jobs. After work, Sally and Sam will both peruse the produce section at Big Y. Over the weekend, Sally and Sam will both visit their sophomore students living in Southwest Residential Area at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

If Sally scoffs at Sam for seeing red on his ballot, or if Sam scowls at Sally for seeing blue on hers, the threads of our democracy will wear a little thinner.

It is paramount you realize that no matter how much you may dread a Clinton or Trump presidency, the survival of our democracy starts and ends with you. Once you demonize your neighbor for what they can’t help seeing, our 240-year streak of peaceful transitions of power is put in danger.

The bonds within our own communities can weather whatever presidential storm hits Washington, D.C. this Jan. 20. It’s up to you to maintain the essential ties among divergent ideological groups in your neighborhood. Respect your neighbor, even if they see the dress differently than you.

Connor Fulton is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]