There was a time (more than once, actually) when I said excuse me to a sock. In my defense, we used to have three cats living in the house who were suspiciously “sock-colored.” To further set the stage, after years of using torches, welders and, well, just the passage of time, shadows are a problem for me. In order for me to clearly see a room, that room needs to be well-lit.

I can see fine if I am looking directly at something, but if there are shadows in my peripheral vision, not so much. Combine this with the fact that nerve damage makes it difficult to know where my feet are — and my wife saying that I can be extremely oblivious when I am focused on something else, or if I am distracted, or if it just happens to be a day that ends in “y” — and you can see where the problem comes in.

So here I am, shambling through my home, and I step on a sock the same cats have somehow retrieved from the clothes hamper and carried through the house for whatever feline purpose and left just at the edges of where I normally walk. And should I step on the edge of that sock, I would step back and say excuse me to the animal I have thought I stepped on, but that was, in reality, two rooms away. Now this was a harmless enough occurrence and the only “damage,” thankfully, was that it made me feel a little foolish. But it also serves as an example of human behavior that applies to many less harmless or amusing situations.

When we look at something directly and we can see it clearly, then it is easy to determine what something is and how we should react to it — or even if a reaction is necessary. But when we only see something at the periphery of our vision, or if what we are looking at is partially obscured by shadows, then our eyes (and minds) try to complete the picture of what we are seeing with less than accurate information. We do this without conscious thought in most cases, because our minds like everything to be in neat and ordered rows following a familiar pattern.

Remember the penny test where you are shown several rows of pennies and asked to find the single penny that is turned a different way from the others? Most people can’t find it without concentrating because our minds actually want to see uniformity and consistency. Our brains want to complete the circuit, so to speak, and they jump ahead to a conclusion they expect or desire to reach. In many cases this is a helpful shorthand and any slight errors are largely irrelevant. One hundred pennies still make a dollar regardless of which way Honest Abe might be facing, after all.

But what if all of those pennies were horses, or tract houses, or people, and each “row” of these things were strikingly similar at a glance? Would the difference matter then? Would we bother to take the time to examine two horses of the same size and color to determine which one is a race horse and which one is a riding horse? If a row of houses are all the same general size and color, can we tell which has been treated well and which has been damaged on the inside as we drive by? And people, well, that’s even harder. If three men are standing next to each other, dressed alike, and of comparable height and weight, then which one is the doctor and which one is the factory worker?

As we can see, peripheral vision isn’t quite so useful when more, often subtle, variables are thrown into the equation; and making decisions based upon it are inaccurate and can cause errors that aren’t as harmless as my apologizing to a sock. When it matters (and it usually does), our decisions should be based upon clear sight and information, and not simply what is easier to assume. This is no more obvious and immediate a need than when we examine how certain groups within our society are being treated by other groups. “Peripheral vision” can play into our fears and resentment and can lead to a lot of hate and violence.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resultant pandemic, hate crimes against Asians has markedly increased. According to a recent article in Popular Science, there were 2,100 reported instances of hate crimes between March and June of 2020, including a woman being attacked with acid while taking out her trash and another woman having a bottle thrown at her while she was strapping her child into a car seat, both accompanied by racial slurs. Another attack involved someone kicking an Asian person’s dog and yelling at her to “Take your disease that is ruining our country and go home!”

It would take a far more talented and intelligent person than myself to list everything that is wrong with this, including the lack of basic human decency. But the absence of clear knowledge, fear, and a need to focus resentment and blame are some of the motivators — all of which are wrong. To begin with, regardless of point of origin or first sighting, viruses have no nationality. Another thing to consider is that it was people traveling through Wuhan, China, that spread the virus when they returned to their own countries. And lastly, perhaps the single thing that should be obvious with little or no thought, is that not all Asians are Chinese any more than all Europeans are Russian or French.

And at the end of the day, that last one shouldn’t matter. What should matter is that we simply cannot blame an innocent person for a crime they did not commit because we want something to fix our fears upon and someone to blame for what is causing us pain and discomfort. The world of the COVID-19 pandemic is shadowed and unclear, and we all want answers we have not yet found. But rather than forcing us to make decisions based upon poor information, it should remind us that we aren’t seeing things as clearly as we should, and we need to be careful of the conclusions we make based upon those shadows.

One thing is clear, however, and that is something no shadows should be able to obscure; Hate is never a good thing, and hate crimes are a most reprehensible form of violence.

Recommended for you