A Beautiful Description: Blindness and Boundaries

“To be blind is not miserable. Not being able to bear blindness, that is miserable.” — John Milton

When I’m writing the poem, I feel like I have to close my eyes. I don’t mean literally, but you invite a kind of blindness, and that’s the poem.” — Eileen Miles

“We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.” — Daniel Kahneman

“The rich become deaf and the mighty blind,” — Vietnamese proverb

Now let’s have some fun and change just one word in each of these quotes. Well, two in some instances for the sake of poetics, but you’ll understand in a minute.

“To be limited is not miserable. Not being able to bear limits, that is miserable.”

‘When I’m writing the poem, I feel like I have to become limited. I don’t mean literally, but you invite a kind of limitation, and that’s the poem.”

“We’re limited in our capacity to understand our limitations.  We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”

“The rich become blocked and the mighty limited.”

Around the world and throughout history blindness, and disabilities in general, have been used as metaphors for limitations of the mind ranging from ignorance to willful ignorance. It’s not a very flattering light to be painted in. And…I’m ok with it.

I’ve always felt baffled and vaguely offended by peoples’ reluctance to call a disability by that word. The lengths to which people will go in conversation to avoid using the word “blind” are hilarious. And awkward and, again, offensive. I could camp on this as a disabilities issue, but I think it’s a deeper cultural issue.

Humans do not like acknowledging limits.

“But isn’t the whole point of exploration and inspiration to push our limits? To break free of them? To boldly go where no one has gone…?”

Yes, I hear the anthemic music spooling up, too. I like pushing boundaries as much as the next gal. I’ve busted a few barriers in my education and career. Even have a couple of standing records in community sports from elementary and middle school. But I also live with physical limits every day. And as a counselor, I can’t say enough about respecting limits, too.

Limits are a Natural Phenomenon

Endings are excellent things; they push aside obstacles to new beginnings.

Limits describe our universes, our world, and ourselves. Ever look up the etymology of the word “describe,” by the way? I’m a nut for etymology, so I did the homework for you.

De Scribe

  • De: prefix, Latin, meaning “down,” “upon.”
  • Scribe: verb, Latin, from “scribere,” to write.

When something is described, its borders and characteristics are written down. The thing is said to be these words, and not others. This brings me to my favorite American communication theorist, Kenneth Burke. The fifth element of his Definition of Man includes “inventor of the negative.” Humans are capable of saying what things are not, as well as what they are.

I am not able to see. I am blind, I am disabled. My physical ability is limited in a way it is not for others.

I’m ok with this. More importantly, I’m ok with hearing this.

Knowing my limits has been good for me in the following ways.

1. Reasonable Expectations

No one will expect me to drive them to the airport, and I needn’t feel guilty for not offering this service to a friend or family member. We’re very clear on what I can and can’t do when it comes to seeing.

Human limitations are used in powerful ways to develop medicines, therapies, surgeries, and other medical procedures. When we know what to expect from the human body under the pressure of illness and injury, and under normal conditions, we can use a comparison of those limitations to know when our efforts to heal are working.

My friends also know that when I look at them I’m only giving them my full attention, not judging their weight, sense of fashion, or new haircut.  My blindness describes what my eyes can do, and that knowledge allows us to develop trust.

2. Limits Provide Direction

When a man encounters a wall with no door in it, he finds himself stymied. When a blind man bumps into the wall, he will feel its entire surface in search of its edge, a door, a window, the smallest crack because his eyes can’t tell him to give up hope.

Running into a dead end in a maze doesn’t usually inspire people to give up. They keep trying. They get creative, try new directions. I don’t know why people assume blindness is any different. So I can’t see. So what? I’ll find a new way to read that book, take that test, get to the airport, understand the profound silence pulsating between client and counselor.

It’s the same principle behind the invention of the telegraph. Human voices are limited in their range, so brilliant people left sound behind in search of a way to communicate across vast distances.

3. Limits are Protective

Knowing my limits protects me from recklessness. Yes, I’m all about pushing boundaries in creative ways, but I do so around my blindness, not through it. Knowing I’m blind, I won’t push the driving boundary. I’ll find other ways to get from Point A to Point B, but I am firmly convinced I cannot overcome my inability to see roads, signs, traffic, pedestrians, and other driving hazards.

To ignore this limit would be fatal for me, and others. To be unaware of it would be just as dangerous.

The human body has thousands of different limitations, many of which are redundant. Many less crucial systems and organs are designed with natural shut-down procedures like fainting, blinking, numbing, falling asleep, and vomiting to signal entering a truly dangerous threshold. Paying attention to natural limits before we get to the really critical ones saves lives.

Limits are not good, or bad. They are porous, flexible, and themselves limited by other limits. Naming a limitation, describing it, setting it down so that it is known is the first step to making full use of it.

Today your favorite blindfluencer says, “if we do not name our limits, how will we know when we have overcome them?”

2 thoughts on “A Beautiful Description: Blindness and Boundaries

  1. How I love reading your posts! The quote about people giving up after hitting a wall and in comparison to that, how blind people would keep looking instead of giving up, is such a beautiful way of looking at the larger picture.

    Liked by 1 person

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