Finding Our Blind Spots

At a recent visit to the ophthalmologist, the technician who was setting up the vision field test remarked, “We’re going to find your blind spot. Everybody has one.” The test requires focusing on a central dot, but clicking each time one sees a flashing light elsewhere. The progression of glaucoma may result in changes to the blind spot, which is why the test is done regularly. Unless the blind spot grows or changes significantly, we aren’t aware of its effect on our vision.

The technician’s comment was made to reassure me. “Everybody has a blind spot.”

What if our “everybody has one” blind spots are not limited to our eyes, but also to other areas of life? To become a good reader, we progress from sounding out words one letter at a time to reading a word as a single unit. Eventually, our reading fluency improves, and we don’t “see” some words that don’t affect the meaning. Some studies have shown that many of us can read sentences with words that have all the correct letters, but not necessarily in the correct order. [Forget about auto-correct that changes “ahaed” to “ahead” or ‘taht” to “that”!] The same process holds true in learning to read music, as we go from the note on the page to the note on the instrument without thinking “That’s g.” Yet even the best reader or the finest musician can miss something important when we read too quickly.

In considering the events of the past weeks, it’s possible I’ve been reading too quickly, or have failed to compensate for my blind spots. Horrified and sickened by the desecration of the U.S. Capitol and threats of violence in many other locations, my first thoughts were unkind, to say the least, judgmental, and unforgiving. Those who committed criminal offenses must be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions. But prosecuting those who are guilty will not lead to a change in attitudes and behaviors of others, especially among those persons who stopped short of criminal activity, but continue to support and admire those who did. Until we are able to understand the beliefs that led to such actions, we will not be able to address the problems and resolve future tension. Things I cannot see – because of my blind spots – or things I am reading too quickly, may prevent me from responding in an appropriate way to those with whom I differ.

When I was a toddler, my mother and father discovered I was frightened of balloons. They have no idea why I was frightened, but used balloons to keep me from going places they didn’t want me to go! I was terrified of dogs for most of my growing up years, possibly the result of an unfriendly interaction with a neighbor’s dog. The first family dog was a total failure in eliminating my fear. But the second family pet became a part of my rehabilitation. His calm, welcoming presence when we pulled into the driveway, his own fear of being indoors even when the weather was terrible, and the fact that he never jumped up on me (he was a beagle with short legs!) helped overcome my fear.

The fears and anxiety that many are expressing right now may have no origin that can be identified, like my balloon phobia. But those balloon fears may be enough to keep people from going to places where others don’t want them to go. Some of the fears may be the result of uncomfortable or unfriendly interactions with those who have different agendas. Perhaps it will take some time in a less threatening dialogue, without being jumped on, to change fear to tolerance, and perhaps even to cordial relationships and common goals.

Everyone has a blind spot, as the technician noted. Fluent reading is an achievement to pursue. But only by being aware of our blind spot, only by recognizing that fluency sometimes ignores details that change meanings, will we be able to better understand one another. As for me, I’m going to work on compensating for my blind spots, and read with greater attention as I converse with others. Maybe then, we’ll be able to pop some of the balloons and recognize that dogs may be worthy companions.


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