Thine is the heritage of the world, thine the task of moulding destinies, thine the privilege of seeing all things through rose-coloured glasses.
—Charles W. Wood, The Argosy
"To see the world through rose-colored glasses" is an idiom referring to a positive outlook colored by naivety or sentimentality. As feminist commentator Pamela Varkony puts it, "Looking at the world through rose colored glasses makes for a pretty picture, but not an accurate one." To be sure, one famous drawback of rose-colored glasses is that not everything that appears red is objectively red. Hence, the lovelorn are cautioned against wearing them: "When we are in love, or when we want to be in love, we sometimes see the world through rose-colored glasses and don't spot the red flags" (Christine Hassler, 20 Something, 20 Everything, p. 224). Sightseers are also advised against wearing rose-colored glasses while on holiday: in Alaska, you'll miss seeing the Northern Lights; in Australia, Mount Uluru will be invisible; in Bermuda, you could sunburn and not know it; in Switzerland, the Matterhorn will appear bright pink. Rose-colored glasses are likely rarely abused at the Grand Canyon, where at close of day the sky turns purple, the sun glows orange, and the clouds blush pink.
Whimsy aside, although the exact origin of the idiom has been lost in the "rose-coloured mist" of time (Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, 1856), we can speculate that it may reference the sanguine light of sunset, when the world is momentarily bathed in rosy radiance. That healthy glow is soon followed by twilight blindness and then impenetrable darkness—hence the air of suspicion. Ironically, though, private investigators and varmint hunters assure us that red lenses help the eyes adjust to low lighting and improve one's night vision. That's because red lenses filter out lower wavelengths and reveal a brighter panorama. So the poetic caution against rose-colored glasses would appear to be ill-conceived.
Indeed, Dr. John Izzo suggests that figurative rose-colored glasses can be a practical tool enabling starry-eyed romantics to pinpoint their ideals and pursue them with focus. He explains: "Usually meant as an insult, [seeing the world through rose-colored glasses] is a way of saying that someone is a bit too innocent, that he or she sees the world with too much optimism. The intimation is straightforward: Wake up and smell the coffee. Some people see the world through other kinds of glasses—cynical glasses—and surely the lenses they choose color their experiences. When it comes to rediscovering wonder and innocence . . . few decisions are more critical than choosing your glasses" (Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder, p. 73). Dr. Izzo seems to be suggesting that in the absence of adopting some sort of rosy focal point, one is likely to see a world limited to depressing shades of grey. It's true that "the particular glasses we wear reflect how we analyze and interpret what we see" (John Peter Rothe, Undertaking Qualitative Research, p. 137), just as the microscopic lens unlocks a richness of detail. These glasses symbolize what Prof. Jerry Griswold calls "forcible shifts in perspective, techniques for seeing things differently." Prof. Griswold cites The Wizard of Oz, "in which Dorothy and her companions put on green glasses before entering Emerald City, and then marvel at how green everything looks. In Pollyanna, however, the equivalent image is, significantly, not rose-colored glasses, but the prism. When the girl hangs dozens of these in the windows of Mr. Pendleton's house, we see something more than her transformation of his gloomy room into a rainbow-spangled place. We see how she has changed him in her prismatic shifts of perspectives. It is her pointing to a spectrum of possibilities, her reminding him of his freedom to choose, which leads Mr. Pendleton to conclude that Pollyanna is 'the very prism of all'" (Audacious Kids, p. 235).
In her book Scraps of Life, the poet Carol Loy Miller offers an intriguing perspective on rose-colored glasses which helps to illuminate Dr. Izzo's point. Miller invites us to imagine the world looking back at us through our rose-colored glasses, reflecting back scenery that has been painted "with the themes and colours we seek" (p. 68). Miller intimates that rose-colored glasses bring definition to the constraints of our world so that we can find our own room for expansion.
Rose-colored glasses invite us to make a distinction between illusion and idealism, between nostalgia for a lost Eden and inspiration for a new Utopia. As Prof. Griswold notes, "it is possible to remain innocent without being ignorant." While critics fear donning blinders of false optimism, proponents embrace filtering out defeatist views. People like Carol Loy Miller see rose-colored glasses as a means for new levels of self-awareness and new avenues for transformation. The glasses could be likened to virtual reality goggles, allowing the user to preview a bright world of possibility. Along those lines, one might consider rose-colored glasses the perfect accessory to a set of blueprints. For at the end of the day, the "real world" is only as colorful as we decide to make it—the glow of sunset notwithstanding.
by Ms Oddgers
Some rose-colored palette inspiration from the COLOURlovers library:
Cover by Nina H.
About the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow