“Privilege blinds, because it’s in its nature to blind. Don’t let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.”–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Driving along a familiar major state route, I noticed a car was in front of me, and observed that no one was behind me. My mind began to wander while we maintained the legal, steady-as-she goes speed limit. I took in the sights along the familiar route, then back to the car in front of me. I took in the blueness of the sky with no puffs of white, and went back to the car in front of me. I glanced at the steadily flowing river, and back to the car in front . . .Wait, the car was suddenly braking! It was only then I noticed the turn signal. It was not turning at an expected later point, such as one of several roads that connect to the route, but instead, it was turning into a random location. I had to brake fairly hard, grateful no one was behind me.
What caused my inability to not see the obvious turn signal? In fact, what causes us to overlook seemingly obvious items. I think I’ve lost my phone, only to have my daughter point out that it was right in plain view. Of course, the reverse also occurs, such as when my husband, or daughter, think they have misplaced a particular object. I go to the same places they have already looked, and I find it for them.
There are several theories/notions about why/how this happens. Some of it is steeped in science, while some of it is more theoretically. Two, more scientifically studied reasons, include inattentional blindness and change blindness. Based on my preliminary research, these phenomena are closely related because they are both failures of visual awareness. However, inattentional blindness is described as the inability to notice an unexpected, but fully visible, object because your focus is diverted to other items within your field of vision, such as when I was driving and did not notice the turn signal. Whereas, change blindness is a surprising failure to notice significant visual changes.
Thought leaders, conversely, might say that a failure to see an obvious object has more to do with a mental scotoma, or mental blind spot due to personal bias, beliefs, stress, or even pressure. (As a point of reference, scotoma is actually a health condition of the eye in which there is a fully diminished or partially diminished area within one’s field of vision.) Thus, in a similar vein, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, have blind spots about ourselves, others, and/or the world around us. Personally, I think we can fail to see something for any one of those reasons, it may just depend upon the situation.
This past weekend, for example, I was weeding an area in front of my house in which I am trying to fill in with one of my favorite flowering ground covers. Stooped in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, I was weeding a bare section of soil, when I noticed a pair of roofing nails–remnants of a late fall roof replacement. They had partially rusted and, quite frankly, looked like twigs. I removed them, and went back to work. Low and behold, I noticed two more roofing nails, then one more, then three more, then two more, and so it went for the better part of an hour. My eyes were no longer blind to nails, aided by the clear, bright light and angle of the sun.
How many times had I previously weeded this bed since the start of spring and never noticed the nails? While I worked, my brain dumped other notions, such as how many times do I overlook my own flaws, but not those of others. Likewise, how many times have I done the reverse, picking myself apart and quickly absolving others who may have the same so-called, “flaws.” As my field of vision became more agile in finding nails, my brain dump also grew larger.
I thought of the poem about a louse, a poem both my mom and dad would quote at different points of my youth. How did it go? Something about a woman feeling so self-pious as she sat in church with all of her privilege and status that she didn’t notice the louse crawling on her fancy bonnet. There was a particular line my parents would especially quote with frequency–a turn of phrase such as–what a gift it would be if we could truly see ourselves as others see us.
Then, my mind meandered to the scriptural story of Jesus speaking in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, when he warns hypocrites to remove the beam out of their own eye in order to clearly see before removing a speck from another’s eye. As best I understand this section of Christ’ sermon, believers are warned to admit and address our own sins first, before attempting to pass judgment on others. However, even then, as the book of Matthew continues, Christ did not want us to condemn another person for their flaws, but instead offer help/support and grace as they work through their own issues.
The more nails I gathered, the more my mind expanded into the understanding that we, myself included, often do not see the full picture–not of ourselves, of others, or even on larger, broad-scale, societal issues. Without this full scope of understanding, we make snap-decisions, fall prey to false information/doctrine/beliefs, or worse yet, become apathetic. It is all too easy to be lulled by the seas of a busy life–caught up in the minutia in order to get through the day/week/month. When this happens, our vision is blinded because our attention is distracted, our focus is narrow, and/or our scope of vision is limited. Thus, we may not realize how comfortable we’ve become with our illusions, our biases, our knowledge/understanding and even what we perceive as truth.
The point is that it is easy to elevate our views/positions/ beliefs and overlook our own issues. It is also easy to overlook/ignore points of disagreement and/or so-called flaws with others for whom we may hold in esteem; and yet, have no trouble identifying “others”–however you define them–as being wrong, bad, or even, the enemy. Left unchecked, the busyness of life can create a pernicious way to cloud, distract, and even blind our perceptions. Therefore, it is worth the time to regularly pause from the distractions and noise of life, and allow the Universal Light to reveal to us the nails in our own life beliefs/actions that need to be removed. They may be disguised as good-intentions, but once a light shines upon them, their sharp edges, like the nails in my flower bed, could hurt someone, including ourselves, or worse yet, those whom we love.