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 


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