On Blindness

We are all blind, in one respect or another.  Those for whom this statement rings true are those who have enjoyed some success in a struggle against perceptual impairment which few undertake. 

We humans have trouble learning to see things that we don’t expect to see.  Or would rather not see.  For perception is greatly influenced by expectation:  is the glass half-full or half-empty? 

Most difficult to see, of course, are things which we have some material interest in not seeing.  Things which, if we saw them, would be uncomfortable to live with, or would change our lives—perhaps in ways in which we are not ready to change.  Or things which might reveal some undiscovered error in our individual or collective ways. 

Blindness of this kind is caused by several factors.  Firstly, our perceptions are restricted by certain cultural assumptions.  Because something is true in the place where we live, at this particular time, we tend to assume that it is true everywhere at all times.  Social customs and mores are based on these assumptions, and things which fall outside them are “weird” or “immoral.”  What we fail to see is that at a different time, or in a different place, things people here-and-now do or believe were/are/will be viewed with the same disfavor. 

Another important factor is religion.  There are a goodly number of traditions which each consider themselves the One True Faith.  They may all be wrong.  Or they could all be right.  It really doesn’t matter so much, except when we don’t see that the person who believes (or disbelieves) differently does so with the same sincerity and conviction as others who (dis)believe as we do.  It’s difficult to realize sometimes that things which we don’t commonly label as “religion” can also be objects of faith, even though we aren’t used to thinking of them that way. 

Our personal experience can also blind us to differing experiences of others.  If our own experience of someone or something has been unpleasant, we often find it difficult to see that someone else, for whatever reason, may have had a positive experience where ours was negative.  Or vice versa.  And we dismiss what they have to say because it doesn’t jibe with what happened to us. 

You may have noticed that I didn’t illustrate my points with examples.  Because if I had, some of you would have refused to see the point—because the example might have been something you didn’t want to see.  Can you think of areas in your own life where you might be blinder than you think?  Which examples of the things enumerated above would have made you say “Yes!”?  Which examples of precisely the same thing would have made you say “Bull—!”? 

People whose eyes don’t function perfectly tend to rely more heavily on their other senses to fill in missing information about the world around them.  This works for perceptual blindness as well.  You will find that you will see much better—if you listen.  And finally, because we are all different, sometimes we must simply admit that we just see things differently.  Which should not stop us from remaining friends. 

Copyright © 1992, 2001 by Charles E. Galvin Jr.  All rights reserved.

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