Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sharing Our Stories: My lens and their world

Changing Our Lens
A personal essay by Roseanna M. White

As a novelist, something I’ve been thinking about a lot in recent years, as people ask me how I create my characters, is the lens through which we view the world. 

It’s easy to talk about in terms of these fictional people—after all, I’m the one creating them. I get to decide what their lens is and whether or not it shifts throughout the course of the story. I define it as “how they view their world and all their experiences.” A mathematician is going to see things differently than a musician, a biologist differently than a fairy tale enthusiast.

This is an understanding that I have about my made-up world because of my awareness of how I view the world always through the lens of “writer.” I’m always trying to put words to everything, trying to capture each experience through a turn of phrase.

We all have a thicker lens than our profession or even our calling, though. And I’m just beginning to understand what all truly makes up that glass through which we each see our world.

A lot of it is informed by our culture, our personal history. My lens is that of a white, middle-class woman. A West Virginian. A girl who prefers rural settings to urban ones. My lens comes from being raised in a Protestant church. In a school without much diversity. Going to a college that had people from a lot of countries, but most of whom still looked “like me.” 

But learning, there, to talk about everything with everyone, to view conversation as a way to bridge any gap. My lens comes from realizing, thanks to my fiction writing and reading, that we can always remove our own lens and put on someone else’s long enough to glimpse their world and come to new understandings.

As racial tensions continue to mount and a light is shone on systemic biases and injustices, sometimes our first reaction is to hide behind our own tinted glasses. “That’s not our world. That’s not how we experience it.” It’s easy to call it exaggeration or political or even flat-out mistaken.

But let’s take off our own lens. It’s a challenge—we’re so used to it that everything might look a little myopic when we make an effort to check our usual outlook at the door. But the best things in the life are the most difficult, and it’s an exercise worth the effort. Take off your lens. Put aside how you experience things. And really ask yourself how others do.

I’ve encountered prejudice here and there because of being from West Virginia. But it’s one I can counter by the way I present myself. When I take off that lens, I see that others don’t have the same ability—no matter what they do, people will make assumptions based on outward appearances that they cannot—and should not have to—change.

I’ve made plenty of friends with people of color, never seeing them as different. But when I take off my lens of “equality,” I see that there are differences, and that by ignoring the continued inequalities, I don’t make them disappear—I just don’t help solve them. In order to truly love and respect those friends, I need to take active steps, not just make assumptions.

I have opinions on right ways and wrong ways to handle problems. But we tend to define “right” and “wrong” by what works and what doesn’t. When I take off my lens, I see that what works for me does not work for others—and so, when is taking different action the only possible recourse?

This is something I have to keep practicing every day. But I should, every day. Because Jesus called us to look outside ourselves. To be radical with our love. To seek out those who are different. He calls us to see everyone through the lens of the only true equality to be found—His love.

What defines your lens? And how can you shift it to see the world in new ways?

Author Bio:

Roseanna M. White is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes.

When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing for WhiteFire Publishing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself.

Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels that span several continents and thousands of years. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to find their way into her books…to offset her real life, which is blessedly ordinary.

You can learn more about her and her stories at

Connect with Roseanna:

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