“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” A Perceptual Controversy (not about a dress)

There are a couple of experiences that I’m fairly certain I’ll never have in my life. For instance, I’m fairly certain I’ll never go to Utah, or eat pickled eggs, or try bog snorkelling. Not to say those experiences are bad…I’m sure they’re all great, but I will probably never try them.

Another thing I thought I’d never do was the very thing I spent my whole reading week doing…

I spent my reading week using abortion victim photography to talk to people about abortion. 

Yeah, I still can’t really believe I did that. 

Using abortion victim photography as a method of changing people’s minds about abortion was something I knew people did, but I used to think it was an overall a bad idea. I thought it was too in-your-face, and I thought it’d make more people angry than change minds. Don’t get me wrong, I was all about ending abortion, but my idea of an effective method was to: (a) be kind to people, (b) address the topic of abortion with pro-choicers only when it came up (which as you can imagine was almost never), and (c) hope to somehow passively change everyone’s mind about the issue! Believe it or not, in the several years I’ve considered myself pro-life, this tactic hasn’t gotten me very far. 

Last September was the first time I heard someone talk about using abortion victim photography and the incredible effect they’d seen. I was definitely surprised and amazed to hear countless stories about people actually changing their minds after seeing the images and having a conversation. Hearing her story made me change MY mind, in the sense that I saw that this method did work. But I was still convinced I would never do it myself.

After that September though, I couldn’t silence a little voice in my head that chanted, “Do it, do it, Alex, you should do it.” Eventually I gave in to that adament voice, and there I was, off to Orlando, Florida to spend a week in front of a huge display of very sad abortion victim photography asking passersby what they thought about abortion.


A conversation with a girl who was extremely saddened from looking at our display.

That experience, which I never thought I would have, was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I realized how necessary it is to talk to people about this, and how one image and one conversation could change someone so much. 

I had so many challenging, interesting, sometimes heated, often deep, and surprising conversations with people during those few days we spent at the University of Central Florida. The images really got people reacting and thinking. Some people saw the images and changed their minds completely about abortion, while others didn’t. Actually, one thing that surprised me was hearing just how differently some people saw the images. 

“What do you think of the display?” I would ask someone. 

“It’s fine. Those aren’t human.” 

That always caught me off guard. “Wait,” I wanted to say, “You don’t see a human in that picture? Are we looking at the same picture..?”

And you know, some of us see humans, some of us don’t. Some of us see blue and black, some of us see white and gold. How is that possible?

If you don’t understand that reference I just made, I’m super impressed that you’ve gotten away with not getting involved in the most random heated controversy on the internet, and forgive me as I pull you out from under your rock. This is what I’m talking about: 

What colours do you see?

Three days ago the world got into this ridiculously huge debate about the colour of a single dress. While half the world saw blue and black when looking at an image of this dress, the other half saw white and gold. The crazy part is that people are looking at the SAME thing! 

Now while determining the actual colour of this dress isn’t an ethical dilemma, the abortion debate IS, and one way or another, a grave injustice is going on. We all need to figure out if abortion is okay or not okay because one of two unacceptable things is currently happening:

  1. Abortion IS okay and pro-lifers are doing women a grave injustice by stealing their rights to their own bodies… OR
  2. Abortion is NOT okay and is ending the life of an innocent human being. Our nation is not only accepting this violation of human rights, but is also fully funding it through tax dollars.

Now, if the former is true, then I’m in the wrong and I’d appreciate if someone shared with me the truth. It’d be a tough pill to swallow, but hopefully I’d be honest enough with myself to admit I’m wrong and thank that someone for setting me straight.  

Yet I realized that’s why using images is so necessary- they get the conversation started. I used them to share how I see the pictures and hear how other people see the pictures, trying to get them to see that there is only one answer. Because in the case of the mysterious dress, there is in fact a right answer (the dress is actually blue and black, believe it or not…weird…) and so it is with the abortion debate. There is a right and a wrong here, and it was incredible to witness people come to see that. Many people did end up admitting, “I never saw it that way before. Abortion is wrong,” or at least, “I see where you’re coming from, I have to think about this more.”

And I know it’s not a pleasant experience, admitting being wrong, especially after being so sure of the contrary, but you know, discovering truth and admitting you’re wrong is one of those experiences that comes with being human.

So, after it all, I’m really grateful for the experience that I was so sure I would never have. It was hard but so so good. When two people look at the same thing but see something different, and that difference costs lives, that difference desperately needs to be challenged.

And we need not be afraid of that challenge. We just need to be willing to experience it.

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2 Responses to “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” A Perceptual Controversy (not about a dress)

  1. Ashley Vandermeer says:

    Yay Alex! This is superbly written, girl! I’m so glad you made that step and went to GAP. I’m very happy to have met you there! Thank you for writing this about your honest experience.

  2. Kyle David says:

    “Abortion is NOT okay and is ending the life of an innocent human being.”
    Here is a story where denying someone the right to abortion ended two innocent lives when on could have been saved: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/savita-halappanavar-death-irish-woman-denied-abortion-dies_n_2128696.html

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