A recent podcast about the five senses, introduced me to Isaac Lidsky, who at age 25, completely lost his vision. He was interviewed on the podcast and snippets of his Ted Talk were interspersed throughout the interview (link below). At the time of losing his vision completely, he recalls that he felt his life was over. He would never be able to do the things he wanted to do. Life as he knew it, was forever changed, and not for the better. Years later, with a law degree, law practice, and countless other achievements, he talks about how resolute he was in the belief that nothing good could arise out of his blindness. And how very wrong he was.
"To me, it's more about choosing what reality you want to live for yourself. So this really was the profound insight that really made losing my sight a great blessing in my life. I felt I was living a race against the clock, a race against time, a race against blindness until I decided to really take control of my own reality."
What I found most profound or enlightening about his insight was this:
"whenever I felt afraid, I'd ask myself two questions - what precisely is my problem, and what precisely can I do about it? You know, I knew blindness was going to ruin my life [at 25], but that was a reality that I was choosing, that my mind had created for me, and I was choosing to believe. And I decided to make another choice."
He decided to make another choice. Rather than following the pathway that places blindness as a deficiency, as something that is wrong or less than in comparison to having sight, he turned away from that narrative and chose something else. He identified his problem, and developed a solution. Sometimes, fear of the unknown controls us. We invent, speculate, and/or presume a variety of horrors will befall us when let fear reign. In our minds, fear of X is powerful and we give it credence over any other possible reality or outcome. We miss the less gloomy side of the coin: that the event, behavior, situation, or activity that we fear may actually bring us new insight, experience, and knowledge.
For Lidsky, going blind gave him vision, as he understands it. It allowed him to live with his eyes wide open in ways he had not been able to do when he had his sight. He shared his learning:
"See beyond your fears, they are your excuses, rationalizations, shortcuts, justifications, your surrender. Choose to see through them, choose to let them go. You are the creator of your reality. With that empowerment comes complete responsibility. I chose to step out of fear's tunnel into terrain uncharted and undefined."
His words and sentiments resonate with me personally as I continue on my journey of starting my own business, believing I can be a research and evaluation project lead, or being a competitive triathlete. The what ifs, fear of failure, and associated worry sometimes pushing me closer to giving up than I would like to admit.
What Lidsky outlined about fear and choice is also relevant right now, today, in our current social, political, and cultural climate. Powerfully relevant. Fear of the "other" and its explicit reification in policy is at a peak. This fear is largely directed at non-white Americans, immigrants, and refugees. In particular, the fear (white) people have of individuals from Muslim countries, and Muslim Americans is taking over. Many, many people are choosing to believe that all Muslim people are a threat to their safety. They are not choosing to see through those fears to a reality that doesn't support this claim. They are invested in the bogeyman story in this context because it's easier to give in to a fear, than it is to make a different choice, as Lidsky suggests we do. This hyper-exaggeration of a perceived threat and the resultant narrative of fear, is leading to heinous and oppressive initiatives that many argue are indisputably unconstitutional.
We each have choices. Our choices are different and complicated, and nuanced based on our identities and how we move through the world. And we still have choices about how we want to treat other people and be remembered. Choices about how and what we communicate or how we embrace challenge and change or eschew it. Lidsky ended his Ted Talk by quoting/paraphrasing Helen Keller: "the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." I think right now, many of us who can see, lack vision because we are blanketed in our fears of something we don't truly understand: "terrain uncharted and undefined." Embrace difference, make different choices, and open yourself up to alternate possibilities.
Ted Radio Hour, "The Five Senses" (Jan 19, 2017). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=510624029