Perception is Reality. Until it Isn’t.

Blurry roadBy Dawn Onley

Just a few short months ago, the virtual hemisphere was in an uproar over some gaudy looking striped dress. A good majority of people – myself included – got it wrong. We saw white and gold, and were adamant about it too, even after the dress maker revealed the colors were blue and black. “That dress is white and gold,” I announced to an aunt. When she commented that it was weird that so many people were seeing the wrong color, I agreed. Reluctantly. Then I brooded over the conundrum. “One thing it does highlight is people can see the exact same thing, differently. Imagine being called as a witness to a crime,” I said.

We later learned that the disconnect had to do with how our eyes and brains perceive information and how that could lead to different color interpretations, according to a few neuroscientists who weighed in.

As I read articles on the dress, my mind wandered. If our perception could distort something as trivial as the color of a dress, could it be powerful enough to shape our reality?

Yes. Our perceptions are largely influenced by our experiences, culture, attitudes and expectations. However real to us, how we perceive something can be flat out wrong.

Over the past week, I’ve sifted through some heavily-charged posts on Facebook that ended in debate (and some name-calling) over everything from the history of the Confederate flag to the need for gun control. It made me think a lot about perception. I believe we are so firmly rooted in our own positions that our perception, on whatever issue, is our reality. Never mind the truth.

We listen to other people’s arguments only long enough to bolster our own.

This is one reason why, sadly, disagreements can’t always be settled. There’s a lot at play here with who we are, how we were raised, and how we see the world.

Sometimes perception isn’t malleable and doesn’t bend. Sometimes, it persists in seeing the white and gold dress, long after the next news cycle.


A Simple Lesson by Jane Elliott

By Samantha McKenzie

Charleston. Cleveland. Baltimore. Staten Island. Sanford. McKinney.

I’d run out of pages if I attempted to list each and every city in America that has experienced some level of racism and injustice in recent times.

Since the fatal shooting of the nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., our nation is once again left in utter sadness. In the days that followed, we learned more of the victims who chose to spend their Wednesday evening at prayer meeting and about Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and its historical impact on this community.jane elliott photo courtesy of mediacatologue

We learned too of 21-year-old Dylann Roof, the lone gunman, who announced his intention and desire to kill black people. As I cringed in horror, I can’t say I was very shocked. “White Man Kills Blacks,” is a headline that’s been longstanding in American history. The messages of forgiveness and faith that followed were also familiar, a scene straight out of my childhood.

But I still wanted to do something. The pink elephant called American racism was sitting smack dab in all of our living rooms.

And then I stumbled upon Jane Elliott, an elementary school teacher from Iowa who conducted a social experiment with her third grade class on discrimination, the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The exercise, known as “blue eyes-brown-eyes” would later become a PBS, Frontline documentary which aired in 1970.

Elliott divided the nine-year-olds by eye color. On day one, she allowed the blue-eyed group special privileges and reassured them of their superiority over the brown-eyed students. She also scolded the brown-eyed group and used condescending language when she addressed them. Elliott watched her students become hateful, mean and divided. She also observed the low self-worth that immediately developed within the brown-eyed group. On day two, Elliott switched the test groups. This time, she treated the brown-eyed group as the superior group. The results were the same. Elliott ended her experiment on day three by teaching her students why we shouldn’t treat people differently because of their eye color or skin color for that matter. It was a moving lesson on discrimination.

Elliott’s lesson was the answer I had been searching for.

A national conversation about racism in America will happen. But it won’t trickle down from on high. This conversation will begin with you and I.

It can begin with my friends or co-workers. It can start at your local church or community center. It may even begin on social media. There will be no fanfare or media coverage. I can guarantee it will be a painful process, but I believe it has to happen and it will — with a few small steps from us.

I thank Jane Elliott – now 82 – for her courage to take action in a small classroom of third graders and for her life-long commitment to ending discrimination as an anti-racism activist, educator and diversity trainer.

Click A Class Divided to learn more about Elliott’s experiment. Also, please share your thoughts on racism in America in our comments section. What will you do?

Shed Your Mentality of Scarcity and Adopt a Mentality of Abundance

SonnenblumeBy Dawn Onley 

You have more than enough. You are more than enough.

Although it may not seem like it when the bills are due, even less so after they are paid, your life is brimming with abundance! There is ample food and drink. You have a home. You have people who love you and whom you love. You have a job. You have mobility. You have friends. You have clothing. You have lived to see another day. You have talents that are unique to you. You have hobbies and interests. You have dreams. You have purpose.

You are the 1 percent to many people living around the world. And you have a responsibility to do something with your First World blessings.

Repeat after me: I have everything within me to fulfill my divine destiny in life. And, I will fulfill this destiny.

Say it every day until you believe it. You are still here, for a reason. Throw out anything that stands in the way of your purpose. Then throw out anything that runs counter to your newfound mentality of abundance. You can’t have both forces operating in your life. Abundance can’t share the same space as scarcity. Lack and enough can’t cohabitate in your mind.

You have to pick a side. Choose wisely.


Be Curious

imageBy Samantha  McKenzie

I grew up hearing the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.”

I think this was my parents way of saying being too curious would get me into trouble. They were also good for saying “a child should be seen and not heard.” Reading Curious George books only solidified their case.

But I always remained curious. I wanted to know more and I wanted to know why. My discoveries sometimes led me to living a life against the grain, breaking a few family traditions and questioning authority. I count my curiosity, to this day, as a privilege.

Being curious stimulates innovation, enhances discoveries and even motivates something in all of us to seek answers, ask more questions and get down to what really matters in our world. Curiosity ushers in understanding and often is the driving force that pushes us out of our comfort zone and into charting a new course.

I’m still curious. The idea of this “cloud” that stores my documents and information still puzzles me. And Pluto’s on-again, off-again relationship with the planets makes me wonder. I’m curious about cultures and sub-cultures and the downside of capitalism and its ugly offshoots, I often call greed and world dominance. I could go on.

Be a game-changer. Be curious. Let’s nurture our curiosity and watch it evolve into tomorrow’s solutions.

Do You Know These People?

By Dawn Onley

Do you know people who bring their own cloud with them wherever they go? It could be 90 degrees and sunny ouWarningtside, then you see them coming, and you know the storm is sure to follow. And you left your umbrella at home.

Do you know people who play the victim with such intensity and at every turn, that they are no longer playing, they officially are the victim of their own self-sabotage?

Do you know people who can’t be happy for other people because they are unhappy with themselves?

Do you know people who are always battling with someone, although their biggest battle is within?

Do you know these people?

Love them with every ounce of your being. Let them know the great things you believe they are capable of achieving. Encourage them. Pray for them. Talk honestly, and tell them how you feel.

But, if things don’t improve, put a distance to the relationship.

This is not to be mean. This is not to be empathetic. This is not to be supportive. This is about keeping your sanity and maintaining your focus.

Because the sad reality is, people like this can drain your energy over time. They can drag you down the same dark, empty road that they are on. They can make you doubt your dreams. They can even keep you from fulfilling your purpose and becoming your best self.

If you let them.


Cuddle your joy like you would a newborn baby. Guard your time and their access to you like you would protect your life savings. Never stop hoping for their breakthrough, but until then, resolve to love them at a distance.

This is not selfish. This is self-preservation.

Sharing the Joy of Father’s Day as a Single Mother

hands-hand-care-father-child-family-boundBy Samantha McKenzie

This past Sunday, I’m sure I was one of millions who joined in on social sites, wishing fathers – near and far – a happy day filled with love and great memories. In the midst of this personal celebration, I noticed posts from people reminding us that Father’s Day was for dads and contrary to popular opinions, not a time for single mothers to take credit. I also read a post that reminded me that I couldn’t raise a boy to be a man, only a man could do that.” Humph. Deep sigh.

I am a single parent of three. I have horror stories and happy endings alike. I made tons of parental mistakes and learned the idea of something is never the same as the reality.

And while I may not be genetically qualified to raise a man, gender was never a criteria for rearing my children. I was aiming for great human beings.

I taught my son and two daughters how to be responsible people; how to exercise good judgment and what it meant to be trustworthy and of good character. I taught them about history and politics, and spent hours debating over current events. They learned why it was important to respect their elders and why it was equally vital to stand up for what they believed. I attempted to show them the little I knew about finances, using the fireplace and taking care of the car. They learned how to take notes in class, study for tests, write a resume, and how to make a good first impression. We visited local museums, art galleries, and dabbled in learning foreign languages. We failed miserably at some of our attempts and have the sense of humor to prove it. What I didn’t know, I found others who did or I encouraged them to do research.

My children took their father out to brunch for Father’s Day. Despite our differences, I have always encouraged their relationship with their dad, and I have never sought to take his place.

So while I would agree that Father’s Day is about the fathers, at the end of the day, there is no competition, no scorecard, no extra credit, just good old fashioned lessons, and the persistent truth that God’s love is never ending.

Money is important, but it’s not everything. The Bible says you can’t live on bread alone.

By Dawn Onley

Years agMoney photoo, when I was an impressionable high school senior on the verge of graduating, a family friend, who I believe thought he was being helpful, told me that journalism was not a major I should pursue in college. I felt a bit crestfallen. I respected this person’s opinion. At the time, I was so happy and felt so mature that I had used deductive reasoning to arrive at my journalism major. I loved to write, and I was good at it. I was curious about the world and at the same time, I was the quintessential ‘save the world’ type. I needed a profession that would combine my interests while also delivering a stable paycheck, despite how paltry that paycheck might be. For a full-time gig, in my view, journalism beat out author and poet for its stability and pay, and I was excited about my choice of major. His advice stung.

His reasoning was that print media was a dying profession, that the pay was miserable and that it was wiser to consider a business or burgeoning technology field.

More than 20 years into my career, turns out he was partially right and dead wrong at the same time. So many of my journalism colleagues have received buyouts or have been laid off. Sadly, journalism routinely ranks low on the list of professions that are respected and that pay well. Many newspapers have shuttered. Some are still hanging on.

Regardless, he was dead wrong because his advice ran contrary to what I felt deeply in my heart, and still feel. I chose to stay true to my heart. I believe this is very often the best choice. I also still believe in the power of journalism to effectuate change, and I fear a world with no watchdogs.

Be smart. But stay true to your heart’s desire. Listen to that voice deep inside of you. I have always believed that voice to be God. Don’t let money hold you captive.

Life is too short for regrets.