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There's beauty in the eye of the beholder


Living in the same region and sharing roads, doctors, schools, and hair stylists doesn’t mean people see a common experience from the same perspective. Everything that’s happened to individuals prior to those events colors their interpretations. It’s true of two kids who grow up in the same house with the same parents but tell two different stories about their upbringing. People spin their own explanations. 

A recent reminder of how humans see the same occurrence differently resulted from a post in a group including urban and rural Kansans. A member published stunning photos of musk thistle flowers. The photographer meticulously shot multiple views of purple blossoms, displaying them in full bloom and as compact buds. She edited artfully to accent color variations and focus on petal filaments or the green casing containing all those seeds-in-development. She added a note explaining how beautiful she found them.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I liked her art, but my brain focused on the difficulty of removing those weeds from a pasture. I dealt with my conflict using avoidance—I didn’t make a comment pro or con about her eye-catching photos. However, others more certain of their feelings clicked the like button to tell this artist she’d won their approval. Some, country folks I bet, respectfully shared that it’s hard to look at a musk thistle blossom appreciatively, no matter how attractively displayed,  if you’ve spent time digging those prairie pests.

Several group members seconded my opinion. All worded their responses kindly, but they made it clear they didn’t see those flowers with the same affection the photographer did. A noxious weed was a noxious weed no matter how attractive a camera and editing made it appear.

A second reminder followed the first within a few days. It also involved plants. A friend who grew up in a large farm family thought people used their green thumbs to grow wheat as a cash crop and big gardens to fill dinner plates throughout the year. Spending time grooming a luxuriant yard wasn’t on that family’s radar. As a result, she thought a lawn punctuated with flowers, wild or cultivated, was pretty. For her, these colorful bonuses brightened drab buffalo grass.

When she married, she discovered another way to look at this situation. Her husband dreamed of having a manicured lawn. He didn’t like weeds disrupting the even turf surrounding their home, explaining it aggravated him when a neighbor’s wildflowers invaded his yard. I’d like to have seen his face when she responded, “But it’s so pretty. Don’t you love the colors?”

If you’re around long enough, you learn no one sees life the way you do. What one person sees as lovely may disgust another. This is certainly clear at the table. One sibling loves broccoli and another gags thinking about it, proof that value lies in the eye of the beholder.

If that photographer had dug much musk thistle, she might have taken its picture, but she probably wouldn’t have raved about its beauty. On the other hand, if a rancher’s grandkid grew up in a city, thistles might be pretty flowers that make artists smile.