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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a metaphorical short story that presents the concept of constructivism through character dialogue and symbolism.

Submitted: December 08, 2011

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Submitted: December 08, 2011




Fighting for the cause of square-shaped eye lenses was a full-time job for Joshua. It didn’t pay anything, of course, but that didn’t matter. It was his calling in life, and he found joy in it.

All people were born with lenses over their eyes. Everyone knew that. It was a queer twist of evolution. It was also common knowledge that these lenses determined how you saw the world around you. The size and shape of one’s lenses could change. They seemed to change on their own, usually becoming more like the lenses of people with whom you interacted. However, lenses could also be influenced by one’s own conscious efforts. The wrong shape gave you a distorted view of things. It was this knowledge that compelled Joshua to convince everyone around him that square-shaped lenses were the best.

Some people just seemed to be born with weird eye lenses. No matter how much they were told about the importance of maintaining a square shape to their lenses, theirs just seemed to automatically gravitate to some other shape.

Joshua felt pity for these people. Instead of despising them, however, he decided to grant them the benefit of his knowledge and wisdom. He believed in using his influence to help other people change the shape of their lenses. He struggled at first trying to figure out whether someone else was a square or … something else. Lenses were difficult to see unless you stood very close to someone and stared into their eyes for a minute or so. Joshua was willing to do this, but soon discovered that people considered it intrusive – even rude. So, he learned that you could discern whether someone was a square, circle, rectangle, triangle, or some derangement of these basic shapes just by listening to them. This skill took talent because you had to listen in a way that didn’t allow your square to start morphing into the deviant shape of the person talking.

At eighteen years of age, he was enrolled in college and on the fast track of accomplishing all the honorable things in life that came from maintaining good, solid square-shaped eye lenses. It was during this time that Joshua met Calliope. She was several years older than him, with auburn hair, dark skin and the most fascinating, colorful eyes he had ever seen. She was beautiful in a very exotic way. Although Joshua was immediately captivated and infatuated with her, he acknowledged privately that she would not make a perfect wife. He couldn’t imagine taking her home to meet his parents. She somehow just did not fit the image of the woman he envisioned as the future mother of his children.

Despite Calliope’s shortcomings, Joshua found himself not only attracted to her, but almost addicted to her companionship. She was so playful with him, maintaining a bemused smirk on her face much of the time. Calliope was so different, so original. Perhaps it wasn’t truly originality, he thought, as much as she seemed to see things so much differently than he did.

They sat one afternoon in the large field situated in the middle of campus. Calliope was lying on her back on an old blanket she had thrown on the ground. Joshua sat cross-legged facing her. Their relationship, although in no way serious, had developed to the point that Joshua felt comfortable broaching the intimate subject of her eye lenses.

“As you can probably tell,” he began, “I believe very strongly in square eye lenses. There are a lot of reasons I feel this way, and I would be happy to give you evidences as to why they grant you the most accurate view of the world.”

“Really?” she asked, in a sarcastic tone. “I never would have imagined that you were a square.” The wink and playful smile she gave him made it evident that she was not taking this conversation very seriously.

Of course, nobody really had perfectly shaped lenses. It seemed that people had weird combinations of shapes – truly mutant shapes. Had Joshua been able to stare into the eyes of everyone alive, he would have found that there are as many shapes of lenses as there are people. Often, people’s lenses would change shape depending on the situation. To Joshua, this was foolish and weak. Common sense told him that square was best – and if best, then you should try your best to make yours a perfect square in all situations.

“I’m serious,” he replied. “I don’t claim to be perfect, but I work hard to maintain my lenses in their proper shape. I attend weekly meetings where other people who also know of the significance of square-shaped lenses meet to remind each other how we need to think in order to maintain a square. We provide support and encouragement for each other. It is a big part of my life.”

An underlying theme of these meetings was that other people inevitably influence the shape of your lenses. Although it was never said, it was implied that safety lay in maintaining relationships with people who agreed with you regarding their lenses’ shape. You should be polite to people using incorrect shapes, but it was best to not let your relationship become too intimate, as you wouldn’t want your nice square lenses to start rounding off at the edges and becoming an oval or a circle. Joshua felt a twinge of bitterness as he recognized the truth of this philosophy and its implications for his relationship with the girl lying next to him.

“Let me guess,” Calliope rejoined, “You give each other little reminders, such as calendars with a daily quote about squares or the importance of paying attention to your lenses.”

“In fact, we do,” he said defensively. “Don’t mock me.” With an untraditional name like Calliope, Joshua knew that she didn’t have square eye lenses. That would explain her unusual views. She probably had lenses that were shaped somewhere between an oval and a figure eight. He wasn’t sure.

“It’s hard not to mock you, Joshua. But I’ll try.” Calliope gazed at him for several seconds and then propped herself up on her elbow. She saw that her humor was not having its desired effect on him, so she turned more serious.

“I imagine,” she continued, “that everything you have seen and heard your whole life has confirmed that your lens shape is right. Have you noticed that?”

“Yes, yes I have,” Joshua said enthusiastically, a sudden bright hope welling up inside him. He knew that she would see the truth and logic of square lenses. “Everything I see and experience confirms the rightness of square lenses.”

“Have you ever considered,” she asked, “that your square lenses influence how you see the world, and so therefore your perceptions are formed in a way that supports square lenses? It is a circular line of reasoning. Of course everything you experience confirms square lenses – because your square lenses shape your experiences.”

In fact, Joshua had never considered this. It shocked him a little bit and he didn’t know exactly how to respond.

Sensing that he wasn’t going to say anything, Calliope continued. “Do you seriously think that everyone in the world – except for those relative few who use square lenses – goes through life stubbornly clinging to their lens shape despite the fact that all their experiences are telling them that square lenses are better? It’s preposterous. Their experiences confirm their lens shape just as your experiences confirm square lenses, and for the same reason: the lenses you wear influence your perceptions, so your perceptions seem to support the rightness of your lens shape.

“My guess is that you have not been exposed to a wide variety of people, say, for example, those from other countries – or, when you have encountered diverse people you judge their way of seeing things compared to the ‘right’ way instead of just trying to understand what they are saying and where they are coming from. Have you even ever looked closely at their eyes?”

“Whose eyes?” he asked.

“People that seem very different from you.”

“Not really,” Joshua said with a touch of impatience. “As you so condescendingly pointed out, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel the world. Besides, I think it would be rude to stare into a complete stranger’s eyes.”

Calliope gave him a playful shove on the shoulder. “I wasn’t trying to be condescending. And you don’t have to travel the world to be exposed to a diversity of people. I have several friends from other countries who attend school here. I’m curious what you would see if you looked closely at their lenses.”

“I’m pretty sure I would see that they wouldn’t be square. Are you trying to tell me that there is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ type of lens to have, that all lenses are equally good. I don’t believe it. Different lenses filter and distort people’s views to various degrees. The lens that distorts least must give you the most accurate picture of reality.”

“And you know that your lenses offer the least distortion of all possible lenses?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“Tell me this, do your parents also have square lenses?”


“How about the people who were your closest friends, the social group that your family maintains? Do they all have square lenses?”

“We all try our best to keep our lenses square, yes.”

“How coincidental and lucky for you, that out of all possible types of lenses, you just happened to be born into a family that wore the best type. And all the people living in other countries – and most people even in this country – were unlucky enough to be born into a social group where different lenses were worn.”

“You make it sound almost impossible, but somebody has to be right. Why not me and my family?”

“I’m not saying you are necessarily wrong. I am questioning, however, how you can possibly be so sure that you are right when you admittedly haven’t been exposed to different lenses – and you definitely have not tried to make your lenses different so you could understand how other people see things.”

“Of course not!” he exclaimed. “I work so hard to keep my lenses square. Why on earth would I ever TRY to distort them?”

Calliope looked at him for a few moments and sighed.

In Joshua’s mind he kept thinking about his family and friends, reminding himself of how sure he normally was about his lens philosophy. He saw Calliope a little differently all of a sudden. Instead of the light-hearted, playful friend, she seemed a little sinister now. Her views were tantamount to sacrilege. If only he were better at explaining himself. But, since she seemed to be the better arguer, he decided to not fight with her on her terms. Rather, he just buckled down to a stubborn insistence that his lifelong views were right despite anything she had to say.

Calliope asked him, “How does it make you feel when I point out the possibility that everything you have believed in and worked so hard to maintain may not be the only – or the best – way of shaping your lenses? I can tell that you feel a little defensive. Do you feel scared?”

“No! I’m not scared, and I’m not being defensive. You just like to manipulate my words.” Joshua wanted nothing more than to end this frustrating conversation and leave, but he wasn’t sure how to do it without seeming like he was running away.

This girl who had been so beautiful now seemed a little scary. If only his parents or some of his friends were here, then it would be easier to point out the flaws in her argument.

Calliope, on the other hand, seemed untroubled by the conversation. She was neither upset nor jubilant. She did not feel like she was convincing Joshua of anything. But then, she had never cared about convincing him of anything in particular. He had brought the subject up. She merely wanted to point out to him some possibilities that he may never have considered. Sensing his frustration, she simply laid back down on the blanket.

They both remained silent for a while. Joshua watched other students hurrying across campus while Calliope lay gazing up at the clouds floating across the sky.

Calliope suddenly sat up and moved closer to Joshua. “I have an idea,” she said. “Let’s not try to convince each other about the rightness or wrongness of our lenses. There is nothing threatening here. Let’s just talk about our lenses a little bit.”

“Alright,” Joshua said apprehensively.

Calliope continued. “Look into my eyes. Tell me what you see about my lenses.”

He leaned in closer to her, wondering what it must look like to the people walking by who saw them. It took a moment to discern Calliope’s lenses from her eyes. “Wow!” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone’s lenses this large. They cover your whole pupil and most of your iris.”

“What do you think that means?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied hesitantly. “Maybe that your lenses have been stretched so much that they have lost their shape. You know, your lenses aren’t square or triangular or circle. They don’t really have a firm shape.”

Calliope backed away and looked at him. “What do you think that means – that they are large and don’t have a shape?” she asked again.

“I think it means that you don’t work very hard at maintaining the size and shape of your lenses. You just go with the flow. I wonder if you just don’t know what type of lenses you want or if you simply don’t care about them.”

“Well,” she responded, “I don’t necessarily care what they look like, per se. However, I care very deeply what they can do for me. I like to think that their large size means that my lenses are able to interpret a wider variety of experiences. You do realize, don’t you, that those things in life that don’t make sense – based on the type of lens you have – are ignored. People don’t always try to ignore them, but it is natural to do so. If you don’t ignore them, your only other option is to adjust your lens to account for them. It’s hard to do that if you insist on maintaining a certain shape and size to your lenses.”

Calliope again moved closer to Joshua. “Look at them again. I’ll show you a trick I can do. It took a lot of practice to be able to do it.”

Joshua leaned closer to her and focused again on her lenses. He saw them form into an almost perfect square, then change into a triangle and then a circle, and a figure eight before he backed away and looked at her incredulously.

“How do you do that? That was amazing!”

Calliope smiled. “Like I said, it takes a lot of practice. You know that you can influence your lenses. Whereas you focus on maintaining a square, I try to imitate the lens’ shape of different people. When my lenses change shape, I’m better able to understand how those people see things. It is impossible to do if you are judging them. You have to try to become them. It is very difficult.”

Joshua sat stunned. He had never thought it possible to be able to control your lenses like that, to change their shape so deliberately and quickly.

“If you think that was cool,” she said smiling, “you’re really going to be blown away by my next trick. Ready? Look again.”

Joshua leaned in again and looked into Calliope’s eyes. The former large, blob-like shape returned to them. This time, however, their color started changing. Instead of being clear, they turned red, then blue, then yellow and a variety of other colors. There was a fluidity and constant changing in them, as well as a deep understanding.

“What on earth was that?” Joshua stammered.

“I bet you didn’t realize that the color of your lenses affects what you see even more than their shape does,” she answered. “People like to squabble about the relatively minor differences that come from wearing square lenses versus circular or triangle-shaped lenses, while they ignore the major differences caused by color. People in different cultures have vastly different colored lenses. Often people don’t even think about the color that is prevalent in their culture. They don’t see the color in those around them because they are looking through the same color lenses. If I want to understand people, I have to imitate both their color and their shape.”

Joshua looked both thoughtful and a little triumphant. “I have heard that people around the world have different colored lenses. That, however, proves my point. In this country we see through clear lenses. If people around the world look through colored lenses, that would distort their view of reality. How can you think that our way of seeing things isn’t the best, most accurate way?”

Calliope laughed briefly and then stopped herself. “Are you serious?”

“About what?” Joshua answered. “Surely it makes sense to you that clear lenses would distort your vision less than colored lenses would. What seems so ridiculous about that?”

“Oh, there’s nothing ridiculous about that. The problem is that you don’t have clear lenses. Just like everybody else around here, your lenses are green.”

© Copyright 2019 Chad Hoggan. All rights reserved.

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