02/27/2015 11:09 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

What We Can Learn From #WhiteAndGold and #BlackAndBlue Dresses


Yesterday, images of the notorious white and gold and black and blue dress went viral. Initially posted on Tumblr by a 21-year-old Scottish singer, the image, within a couple of hours, caused an instant media sensation throughout the world.

What fascinated me the most about this phenomenon, though, was my own reaction to it. When I began to see statuses from my girlfriends like "Definitely black and blue" or "Definitely white and gold," I first thought that another Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign had begun -- similar to the ones in which you secretly post what color your bra is -- but then I realized (sadly) that it's not October anymore.

After a quick Google search for "white and gold," the image immediately popped up. I then read a BuzzFeed article about it and adamantly decided that all of the people who saw black and blue must have something going on with their vision, for I only saw white and gold.

At that time, I had been working on a midterm paper, so I took a break from the newest Internet controversy and continued to write. But then, like most college students, I got sucked into watching Netflix after a while and started to surf Facebook for a few -- or 30 -- minutes.

I noticed that one of my other friend's statuses had changed. "Now I can only see black and blue!" it said. Not surprisingly, my curious nature led me to click on yet another article about the dress.

This time, though, I saw the black and blue. My initial reaction to that was "Wow, they were right. How strange."

I scrolled further down on my newsfeed and saw so many more statuses about it:

"Score one for #TeamBlackAndBlue"

"Get it together. #whiteandgold"

"I see illuminati brainwashing everyone #whiteandgold"

While these statuses are certainly humorous and in good fun, they serve as poignant examples of how we work as human beings in the 21st century -- and I'm not just talking about the excessive use of incomplete sentences and hashtags.

As a society, we tend to quickly put people who don't see things the same way we do in the "other" category, and we tend to judge their ideas while staunchly defending our own.

If there is someone telling us that they see something differently, and even when they back up their claims with scientific proof, we disregard them. The way we answer difficult questions is by choosing a side and by ostracizing the other one. However, doing so not only devalues the other's opinions and creates a false sense of security for our own, but it covers up the deep-rooted fear that we have of being wrong or of not knowing the answer.

If someone challenges us to see something in a different light -- whether it be related to politics, education, human rights, or what color a dress is -- we feel uncomfortable. Why? It's simple. We have been trained from the day we were born to automatically give answers and to know.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" my mom would -- and still does - ask me. There's no room for inquiry in that question. There's a right and wrong answer, and while it may be helpful to learn how to count this way, the right-and-wrong mentality begins there and carries over to other issues when we grow up. We have not yet been trained to be the ones asking the questions or to even feel comfortable with leaving some questions unanswered.

Instead of telling each other, or trying to prove to each other our answers, let's ask each other questions. Let's take time to think about things from all sides of the coin instead of jumping to a conclusion based on what we first experience. Let's acknowledge that there is truth and validity on any side of a debate. When we stray away from leaning into discomfort and when we comfort ourselves by embracing our own beliefs only, we eliminate any chance to find common ground with others and to see our lives from the eyes of a different perspective. Though there might be two dominant sides to any issue, the nuances and all of the "what if" questions actually prove that we have much more in common than we might think. All it takes is for us to ask and to listen.

So for the moment, pick a team. It's fun! I was team white and gold and then I was team black and blue and then I saw the truth -- I saw both sides of the debate. If we all become a little more mindful, and ask a lot more questions, I really think that, together, we can take a huge and much-needed step toward a more compassionate and caring world.