Old Attitudes Die Hard

by Carl Jarvis

Remember the old adage, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." Which makes me wonder, how many of you have ever given or been given a bath in a free-standing tub, one from which the water could be thrown out? 

Think of how many of our expressions come out of the past and are based on a way of life that no longer exists, or is fast disappearing. "A stitch in time saves nine." How few people now pick up a needle and thread to do more than put a button back on a blouse or shirt? "A quarter past the hour" makes no sense to our grandchildren when clocks no longer have hands. And how many horses are there in a 250-horsepower engine? 

Little things like dialing the phone. Really? What do we do to a modern phone? Punch it? We can't dial something that has no dial. And what in the world do we mean when we say, "Just in the nick of time" or "It's down the road a piece"?

Well, before it sounds like I'm just babbling, my point is that we hang onto old expressions long past the day when we knew why we used them. We say things out of habit because we have established general agreement on what they represent. My grandma used to say, "He's so poor he doesn't have a pot to pee in, or a window to toss it out." Now we understand that this fellow is really poor even though none of us have ever peed in a pot or looked for a window. Have we? 

But here is my point. We as a society hold onto outdated ideas just as we hold onto old expressions. Our attitudes about blindness are based on thousands of years of beliefs that have been passed from generation to generation without folks ever giving much thought to them. "Blind as a bat" conveys a particular mental image when applied to a particular situation. "He flew into a blind rage" tells us something about the antics of someone who is out of control. "She groped blindly for the door" gives us a beautiful picture of how lost this poor soul is. 

"Down a blind alley." "He turned a blind eye." All are expressions that all of us understand. All are based on attitudes about folks who lived and died thousands of years ago and who lived in a very different world. While we blind people live in a much different world today and are very different from those lost souls on whom such expressions were based, we are nonetheless stuck with them because they are broadly understood, and make a general picture of the point being made. They have nothing to do with how blind people function today, and yet they have everything to do with how society sees us.

Try and think of ways the word "blind" is used in expressing a positive point. We say, "He had a keen eye for the task." We know that this fellow is on top of the situation. But there is no positive way of letting folks know that the blind person has just as keen an eye. The word "blind" trumps all else. 

We blind people are up against something much bigger and deeper ingrained than merely proving that we are capable human beings. Even as the waitress says to me, "My, you people do so wonderfully well," she is responding to our collective understanding of blindness, not to me. 

Ten years after I had been totally blind, my dad said, "By golly, I believe that blind people really can do anything they set their minds to!" I was taken aback. "Dad," I said, "I don't understand. You have always agreed with me that blind people can live normal lives just as sighted people do." 

"Well," Dad said, "I understood what you were saying, and intellectually it made sense. But now I really believe it." Today I understand that at that point Dad had stepped past all of the accumulation of ingrained attitudes about blindness. And this is where rehabilitation must come to: more than just proving that we are as good as our sighted neighbors. Even with us proving that we can do some things better than they can, that will not change that underlying, unspoken accumulation of belief. 

It could be said that along with rehabilitating the blind person, we must rehabilitate our entire society.