Blind Spots
BlindSpot Becoming aware of your own blind spots, so to speak, is impossible until you can see if even just a little bit your life through the eyes of others, or with a new perspective. Doing so can be both enlightening and difficult.

I'll never forget the moment when I was told by a psychiatrist I have bipolar disorder. I was 35 years old, and the notion had never occurred to me despite twelve years of suffering the severe ups and downs of depression/mania as well as, ironically, having earned a degree in psychology with honors. In retrospect the fact I could not at first believe the diagnosis was telling of its accuracy. Blind spots are like that: by nature they are themselves hidden; they hide invisibly.

After the initial startle, though, of suddenly seeing something which had hitherto been concealed right before you, an opportunity exists to begin learning how to keep seeing that thing and therefore to begin dealing with it. Denial at that point is usually tempting; giving in to such temptation is retreating back to the comfort of a willful blindness out of fear of the pain that would come before any growth or improvement.

A further opportunity also exists in simply understanding how we had before gone through life with a blind spot, and then we can, perhaps for the first time, begin to wonder what else we might be missing, to ask of ourselves and others what mistakes we may be making, be those mistakes through action or inaction. One might be just not seeing today how pretty some flowers on our path are; another could be continuing a behavior that negatively affects our lives and the lives of others around us.

Sometimes it takes the impartial words of a stranger to point out something being overlooked: the opinion of a trained professional or the observation of a passerby on the street. Sometimes it takes a close companion to tell you what you couldn't otherwise notice. Sometimes it takes a whole team of people you know—an intervention. It took me two years of talk therapy and mood-stabilizing medication to finally heed the advice of my primary care physician when he told me to quit alcohol and marijuana, that those things were absolutely bad for me. Six years after ceasing them, I'm shocked that I let myself habitually use them for as long as I did. It's much easier to look back, of course, and wonder how we couldn't see what we see now.

The world is full of these blind spots. When enough people have the same one all kinds of terrible things can happen—atrocities which would otherwise be unimaginable. When many people overcome the same one amazing, wonderful, beautiful things can happen. Countless examples exist of both, from the hateful and bloody to the lovely and invigorating.

As a graduate student in English Studies, I was told that we English 101 teachers were supposed to be encouraging the practice of "critical thinking", not only in the writings of our students but also in our and their everyday thought. Such stressing owed a lot to the cultural theory underpinnings of the Illinois State University English department of the late 20th century. The professors we studied with at the time—Bill Woodson, Bill McBride, David Foster Wallace, Curt White, and others—were trying to get us, their students, to be more aware of our blind spots so that we could do the same for our own students.

That's it exactly, really. We're ongoing students of life, in a way. We can do our homework and listen to our teachers if we choose, and if we do, we can not only set an example for others but also become teachers of others ourselves. Although the metaphor of blindness here thus has its use, it also has some limitations—perception is certainly larger than vision, and "blindness" oversimplifies situations in which very complex circumstances contribute to the occlusion of some matter—and yet it seems appropriate and skillful for members of a species like ours which heavily invests in its sense of seeing to occasionally and bravely ask, "What can't I see?" and furthermore, then, "What can I do about it?"