How Well Do You See?

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life called “Invisible Made Visible.

The opening interview was with Ryan Knighton who is blind. He described an evening where he absolutely could not find the telephone in his hotel room. As much as he used various self-described techniques, such as “groping the coffee table” or “Marcel Marceau-ing the walls,” he could not locate the phone. For him, to touch it was to see it. And if he could do neither, then he presumed it did not exist.

The next day a new situation caused him to become totally disoriented in that same room. For a few minutes he couldn’t find anything and lost his bearings completely. An experience that was as frightening as it was frustrating. Eventually he realized something about the design of the room and all the pieces clicked. He regained his bearings, found the phone, and all was right with his world again.

In describing his episode, it struck me that we all suffer from a metaphorical blindness. If we cannot see something, or better yet, touch it, it doesn’t seem to exist. And so it is with many of the things that have helped us get to where we are in life.

Ryan described his experience as “getting lost inside his mistake.” In psychology there are various types of blindness.

  • Choice blindness refers to the phenomenon where people are blind to their own choices.
  • Inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness, is the failure to notice a fully visual but unexpected object.
  • Change blindness occurs when a change occurs and we fail to notice it.

Watch this related experiment from NOVA and you will see what I mean. (It’s an engaging four minutes.)

The point being is that there are all types of blindness that cause us to miss the many things that help us each and every day. But too often, we don’t even bother to “grope” or “Marcel Marceau” around the contours of our life. We fail to try and “touch” or “see” those things that make us who we are.

So find five minutes today to truly see someone who is helping you to touch something that is making your life better.

At the end of the This American Life segment, Ryan talks about his blindness, saying that for some time what was most difficult about being blind was the embarrassment in still trying to “see” things.

He got over it. Shouldn’t we?

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