On being … seen through a new lens

By Ingrid Sapona 

According to my ophthalmologist, I’m lucky because I have one eye that sees distance and one that sees up close. For much of my adult life I needed glasses to drive and watch tv (before everyone had stadium-size tv screens). My prescription was pretty mild and, as apparently often happens, my distance vision has improved to the point that now I don’t even need glasses to drive. 

Sadly, my reading vision deteriorated to the point that a couple years ago I started needing “readers”. Because one eye needs way more magnification than the other, I can’t use over-the-counter readers. I recently got new readers and I couldn’t believe what a difference the stronger prescription makes. The resolution on my iPad screen is something I never experienced before. At the risk of a very bad pun, it’s been truly eye opening. 

The idea of seeing things through a particular lens has been on my mind the past couple weeks – but not just in terms of one’s eye sight. I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of ways a person’s work so often focuses their attention and viewpoint.

The other day I attended a continuing legal education seminar featuring a panel discussion of corporate disclosure related to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. ESG relates to things like sustainability, net zero emissions goals, reporting on whether one’s suppliers adhere to conventions against child and slave labour, and so on. Institutional investors and regulators are increasingly interested in whether publicly traded companies have policies regarding various ESG factors and, if so, how they apply their policies in practice. 

From her bio, I knew the panel moderator sits on the board of a few large companies. A number of times during the session she talked about how costly it is to provide such disclosure. Though I don’t think she’d ever admit she’s against such disclosure, her disdain for reporting on environmental factors was especially strong because, as she noted, there’s a lack of consensus regarding exactly what – and how – to measure. She railed against the cottage industry of consultants that work with companies to produce such disclosure. She just kept asking, “In the end, who pays for all this reporting?” It was clear she sees disclosure mainly through the narrow lens of a corporate director who has had to sign off on disclosure reports that are time consuming and costly to prepare. 

Finally, one panelist (the Chief Sustainability Officer at a Fortune 500 company) reminded everyone that the point of ESG disclosure is to demonstrate where the company stands on certain things. For example, if a consumer or investor is concerned about whether a clothing company ensures its suppliers don’t use child or slave labour, one way to find out might be through their human rights disclosures. I was so glad he spoke up! All the other panelists seemed to forget that disclosure is basically a mechanism for getting companies to re-focus from the bottom line to other things that matter – like climate change and fair labour practices. 

A headline on an opinion piece in the Toronto Star also caught my eye this week. It read: “The Great Canadian Snow Job – Is Canada selling immigrants on a story that no longer exists?” I thought it might be about promises made to translators who helped Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and how we’ve been slow helping get their families here. Or maybe about difficult living conditions faced by migrant farm workers. Or maybe some other story of unforeseen hardship due to red tape or bureaucracy that so many immigrants face. 

I guess, given what I was expecting to read about, it’s fair to say I was surprised by the first paragraph of the article. It focused on how the price of real estate is out of control here. It noted that the average price of a house in Orillia, Ontario – a town of 33,000 about 100 miles north of Toronto – is on par with the price of a house in Los Angeles. That doesn’t really surprise me. But then the author went on about the fact that Orillia doesn’t have the sandy beaches and perfect weather that LA has. That’s all true enough, but I’m sure most people who immigrate to Canada don’t come here for the weather or because they hope to live cheaply.

More than half the article focused on the price of shelter, with little discussion of any of other social, familial, or other reasons people might try to immigrate to Canada. I found that odd until I read the brief author’s bio at the end. It turns out he’s a data analyst and co-founder of a housing news site. No wonder the focus on the cost of housing. The essay seemed another example of someone seeing – and assessing – issues through a very particular the lens. 

In some ways, what I’m getting at here isn’t that different from the psych concept known as the “law of the instrument”. You’re probably familiar with it through Abraham Maslow’s quote that when someone’s only tool is a hammer, they treat everything as a nail. Similar, right? 

While there’s comfort in continuing to see things through lenses you’re used to, you may not realize how they’re limiting what you see and perceive. If you take them off – or better yet, try seeing things through a whole different set of lenses – you might be surprised by new things that come into focus. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... by chance

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’ve never liked appointments for social visits. Making a “coffee date” changes something casual – the idea of a chat over coffee – into something formal (pretentious even). Sure, I know that people are busy. And for some, if they don’t put a meeting on their calendar – even a social one – their day gets away from them. Looking at it from that perspective, I suppose I should feel honoured when a friend schedules a get-together. But honestly, I don’t feel honoured… I feel fitted in. 

I don’t even like making dinner reservations. Unless the meal’s a prelude to another activity – like a theatre performance or concert – I hate the idea of promising we’ll be someplace at a particular time. More times than not, when I have a reservation, I end up rushing or having to kill time because I’ve overestimated the travel time. Who needs the pressure? 

While Covid restrictions on restaurants were in place, however, I did my best to accept the need to book a table. Staffing shortages and being required to have fewer tables made it hard on restaurants and many began requiring reservations. Indeed, I decided I’d use the pandemic as an opportunity to become one with the need to make dinner reservations. But, once Covid restrictions were lifted, my reservation-averse self reared its head. 

Returning to my disdain for social appointments, I think it also has something to do with a desire to return to the freedom of youth. I’m not of the play date generation so, as a kid, if I wanted to see someone, I hopped on my bike and pedaled to their house. (Phoning friends was out of the question – the family phone was for important things, not to see if friends were free.) If a friend was home, great. If they weren’t – or were busy – that was ok … at least I got a bike ride out of it. The other thing I loved about unplanned visits to a friend’s was that there was no way of knowing what you might get up to. The possibility for serendipity was so much more likely with such visits. 

I realize that as we get older, our days fill with obligations of work and family, which means there’s simply less time for unannounced visits. Indeed, sometimes simple logistic gets in the way: friends moving to different towns and even people moving into condos with security guards and concierges puts a definite crimp on impromptu drop-ins. But I still enjoy them and I continue making such visit, to the extent possible.

I have, however, come to realize that some people don’t like surprise visits. I used to take it personally. I kind of felt that if they couldn’t make time for a quick hello, they didn’t really value my friendship. (Someone once suggested perhaps people were embarrassed by how messy their house is. I suppose that could be, but if that’s the case, they must worry that I’ll judge them on such things, which is crazy.) Anyway, I now realize that what folks might not appreciate is the disruption of their day. That was a HARD thing for me to “get”. So now I carefully weigh whether it’s more likely the other person will see the visit as an unexpected delight or an inconvenient intrusion.  

Fortunately for me, there are still times when chance visits pay off. That happened to me recently when I decided to drop in on a few friends while I was in Buffalo. My trip was planned, but brief – just one night to visit with my 90-year-old godmother. When I told my sisters I was going to Buffalo, they asked if I’d see anyone besides my godmother. I told them the truth: I wasn’t sure. 

Before I headed back to Toronto, however, I decided to take my chances and see if some family friends were home. I saw their car, so I pulled in and parked. I rang their doorbell and the husband answered. He was surprised to see me and welcomed me in. Soon his wife came to the door. She too was pleased to see me, but she was just leaving for an appointment. I had parked behind her, so we left together. It had truly been nothing but a quick hello, but I think we were all glad to have seen each other, even briefly. 

That visit gave me confidence to make another stop. This one was to a 100-year-old family friend (AMR). She’s pretty much confined to home, and I know some days are better than others for her. But that’s the thing: if we’d have formally arranged a visit, I know she’d feel pressured to keep it, since I was coming from far away. I didn’t want to stress her out that way. 

Believing that AMR would be happy to see me, but honest about whether she was up for a visit that day, I took a chance. I pulled into her driveway and phoned. She recognized my voice and after asking her how she’s doing, she said, “Well, I’m fine. Why? Do you want to come for a visit?” I laughed and said yes and that, actually, I was in the driveway. She was delighted, though she needed 10 minutes to finish getting dressed. I gladly waited in the car until her caregiver waved for me to come in. We ended up visiting for nearly 90 minutes. AMR relished sharing news and photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I just loved the chance to spend time with her. 

Impromptu visits to friends are not without risk. But I think if your intention is genuine and good natured and you assure the person that you want nothing more than to see them and say hello – the risks are worth it. 

What about you? Do you take social chances, or do you require a plan?


© 2022 Ingrid Sapona