How Can You See … But Not See?

by | Jul 21, 2021 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

The quick answer is… find a pair of rose-colored glasses. Rose-colored glasses have become a way of speaking about a person who often sees something as brighter or better than it actually is. Of course, ironically, a rose tint can allow seeing things more sharply.

I thought of the metaphorical sense when reading a satire about a tech company that developed digital glasses that edit out the poor. The Daily Squib is a curious satirical parody newspaper offering breaking news in the form of political satire, comedy.

The article also brought to mind how much Vincent viewed the suffering of the poor more sharply than his contemporaries. More later on that later from Tom McKenna on seeing better in the Vincentian Family.

How can you change what you do not see?

First, the “press release”…

PARIS – France – Revolutionary tech startup eFFACER has designed glasses that edit out poor people and their surroundings. The glasses will only be accessible to the rich. There’s nothing worse for rich people who have to sometimes pass through areas of a city or countryside only to be confronted with unsightly poor people going about their business or rioting in the streets. … tech company from Paris, France has come up with digital eyewear that simply edits out undesirables and the Untermensch as well as ugly poverty ridden surroundings. The glasses are so sophisticated that they even have sensitive smell sensors embedded on the frame, and can detect a poor person from over 100 yards.

Ouch! A concept that is too close to reality. Just think about the heavily-tinted lenses worn by those who “see” the mob of January 6 as merely tourists walking peacefully through the halls of Congress.

Vincent’s filters in the 1947 classic

In a 2010 presentation to the Vincentian Family, Fr. McKenna describes Vincent’s reaction to the raw reality he saw.

The scene opens with Vincent and the French King and his court out for a naval exercise of sorts. Seated below them were the prisoners sitting high up on the back deck of a slave ship powered by slaves. Seated below them were the prisoners – bench upon bench, chained to their oars, rowing for all they were worth, under the crack of a whip. The nobleman next to Vincent leans over and offers him a handkerchief filled with perfume. The man explains, “When they get to rowing, they begin to sweat. And there’s a terrible stench that comes back here. If you put this up to your nose, you won’t notice it – or even them. But Vincent notices. He doesn’t want not to notice. The opposite of screening out these suffering prisoners, he wants to see them. So different from the man at his side, he looks at them as the most important people on the ship. (And in the scene, Vincent jumps up and runs to take the place of a convict who has slumped over his oar. The point? What everybody else filters out, and tries hard not to notice, is for Vincent the most important action in that setting. These suffering ones, these low-lifes, these dregs of society – they are the key people. All of us here know the rest of the story, how Vincent more and more gives himself over to noticing and treating these no-accounts as the special ones, the beloved of God, his Lords and masters.
Monsieur Vincent (1947)

Before we focus on the rose-colored filters others wear

Perhaps we should put on Vincent’s lenses to see realities we have filtered out, whether race, social class, country of origin, or even stage of life such as the frail elderly or the not yet born.