Sight “privilege”

Sight “privilege”

I’ve been searching again—I’m not sure for what—but I knew I wouldn’t find it working at home. Alone. On a Tuesday night.

So, I headed out to the Denver Press Club for a networking event. I assumed I’d make a few new professional connections. Drink a glass of mediocre wine.  

Little did I know, my eyes would be opened by a person who is blind.

The speaker was Mike Hess, founder and executive director of the Blind Institute of Technology. He told us he’d been a six-figure engineer. The “token blind guy” leading big projects for Fortune 500 companies.

Mike said his success wasn’t despite his blindness. It was because of it. Somehow, he made light of it all.

He said he succeeded because he was blissfully unaware of the pretty executive in the low-cut blouse. Or the one with the legs up to here. He never needed a window office to feel valued.

Now Mike runs a company that places sight-impaired people in jobs. He makes a business case—not a charity case—for the hires. Focus is their greatest gift.

At the Press Club, he handed out blindfolds to prove his point.

Sure enough, when we put them on, we retained more information. Without visual distraction, we were more likely to hear and to recall what was said.

According to many studies (and explained this story in Scientific American) “the brain adapts to the loss [of one sense] by giving itself a makeover. If one sense is lost, the areas of the brain normally devoted to handling that sensory information do not go unused. They get rewired and put to work processing other senses.”

A recent incident—wherein a date’s boorish sense of sight obliterated any possibility of productive words or feelings—reminded me that for many of us the reverse also can be true. And we may not even know it.

Might we, who rely so heavily on sight, lose our ability to hear?

Or to feel?

Do visual cues—combined with our overdeveloped sense of certainty—cause us to miss what’s most important?

I fear the answer is yes.

But the good news is, we can regain what we may have lost. We can relearn what we have forgotten.

Mike suggests we put blinders on. Literally.

Block out visual distraction when it ceases to serve us. Deliberately cover our eyes with blindfolds—and hand our partner a set—when we have something important to say.

I’ve tried it. And find it’s a bit like meditation. So it will take practice. And patience. And an open heart.

But when we sit in the darkness, we can feel the pace of conversation slow.

With blinders on, we’re more likely to hear our own heart beat. And to hear the heartbeats of others.

Hidden kindnesses do reveal themselves.

And—miraculously—we know what we need to do next. 

Eyes wide open

Eyes wide open

Stories are history

Stories are history