The Stories That Blind

Daniel Kish is blind, but that doesn’t stop him from living an incredibly active life. He hikes and mountain bikes, all without being able to see. He has perfected a form of human echolocation, using reflected sound waves from clicks he makes with this mouth. The time it takes those sounds to reach his ears gives his mind a mental picture of his surroundings.

Daniel has traveled the world opening people up to the idea that blind people can “see” without the use of their eyes. He teaches echolocation to anyone willing to learn, but he meets a lot resistance by those whom you’d think would be the most excited about this technique – loved ones of blind people, and those who advocate for them.

“The blind cannot lead the blind is right out of the Bible. It’s fundamental to our culture… I definitely think that most blind people could move around with fluidity and confidence if that were the expectation,” Daniel told NPR’s new podcast Invisabilia.

Sadly, the expectations most people have of how capable blind people can be, feed into expectations many blind people have about themselves. When Daniel teaches echolocation, he allows his students to fend for themselves in unfamiliar places, using only their canes and their echolocation skills. He allows his students to learn the limits of just how far they can walk towards danger (such as a busy street) by letting them explore that limit for themselves. Quite often, a family member of the student stops them before they reach that limit in an effort to protect them from danger. This is something Daniel says robs them of that learning moment, where the student develops the confidence to know they can depend on themselves and their skills to protect themselves. That they don’t need help from sighted people.

Protecting the blind student from experiencing their limits simply feeds back into the story that sighted and blind people have about being blind; that they can’t do the things people with sight can.

Sadly, we all do this all the time in our lives. We have a series of experiences (no one wants to be my friend), that reinforce something we think of ourselves (I am not lovable), and it becomes a story that we believe to be true (you have to please everyone all the time to have friends). We become comfortable in these stories and allow them to guide us through life, no matter how much they actually hold us back. We believe the stories “protect us” from “danger” and “being hurt,” when in actuality, they enslave us. Like those well-meaning family members, these stories prevent us from experiencing the learning moments that would free us from the story into the next level of awareness.

Expectations are not just ideas people put upon us; our internal stories do even more to hold us back from unleashing the greatness inside. Unwinding our stories takes time. However, simply identifying the stories as they present themselves, and choosing not to act on their deceptions, opens us up to building new stories that actually serve us, rather than hinder us. “I have to please everyone all the time to have friends” can transform into “I know I am lovable, and people have the freedom to choose to like me or not.”

Reflect on your day so far. What is one story that has played a limiting role in how you have lived or experienced your day? The next time that story pops up, how will you identify it? What’s a new story that can replace it? Practice this conscious storytelling over time and the new story will take root, and choke out the old one.

“Some stories, you use up. Others use you up.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

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