One weekend when I was in high school, my dad and I went to our state’s convention of the National Federation of the Blind. I enjoyed seeing some friends and chatting with vendors selling the latest technology to assist the blind. But Dad and I were both turned off by the pride exhibited by some of the blind people there. Now I am all for independence. I think people with any disability should strive to be as independent as they can be, and parents and teachers should set realistic, yet high expectations for children with disabilities. But at the convention, I realized that it is a slippery slope from reasonable independence to pride. At the time, my Christian faith was not as developed, so I didn’t give any thought to the sinful nature of pride, but I remember thinking how the pride of these blind people added unnecessary difficulty to their lives.
For example, people would be wandering around the hotel, tripping people with their canes, clearly lost, but when someone offered to help them, they would get upset. Blind people can, and should travel independently in their everyday lives. In addition to being blind, I am also directionally challenged, which my mom says is genetic, so I need a little more instruction and practice even compared to other totally blind people. But eventually, I learned every new school that came my way, and I can confidently navigate my office with a dog or a cane. But for a convention where it is extremely crowded, and you have never been in that particular hotel before, and likely won’t visit again, at least not for a long time, there should be no shame in accepting offers of assistance. No reasonable person would doubt your capability as a blind person if you sought help in this unusual circumstance.
One of the speakers was a blind parent who proudly stated that she travels with her children on the city bus and declines offers of a ride home from sighted friends, even if it is pouring rain. I live in a suburban area where there is no bus service, but if I lived in an urban environment, I would make every effort to learn the bus system. Blind people in urban environments use city buses and even subways successfully every day. If I lived in an urban environment, I think I would strive to use public transportation as often as possible so as not to impose on people, but also because I am the type of person that needs to practice routes regularly or I will forget what I need to do. But every now and then if it is especially cold, or the rain is coming down in buckets, I would absolutely accept a ride from a sighted friend, and again, no reasonable person should doubt my capability as a blind person for doing so. My dad and I discussed these events on the drive home, and we both laughed about the ridiculousness of such attitudes. Little did I know back then that when I got a little older, I would fall into prideful attitudes myself.
In hindsight, I think much unnecessary emotional suffering could have been avoided had I not been so prideful. My boss is a kind and fair person. I am sure that had I possessed the humility to sit down with her months sooner and been more forthright about how much anxiety the job was causing me, and how it wasn’t feasible for a blind person, I might have started my current position much sooner. But I knew of blind people in far more demanding positions. I personally know blind teachers and social workers and have heard of blind people being successful in law and medicine. So I thought my inability to handle this job was due to a problem with me. I was a loser, a failure. When I was rejected for every state government job I applied for, it only re-enforced these feelings. It seemed as if God had given everyone talents and callings for their lives except me. Everyone in my family had experienced challenges in their jobs too, so the fact that I really wanted to give up and quit made me feel like even more of a loser because I couldn’t handle the realities of being an adult. But quitting and telling the boss I wanted to “pursue other opportunities” sounded better at the time than showing weakness by telling the boss I couldn’t handle my current position.
But now I realize that just like impatience, pride impedes rational thought. If I ever find myself in a similar situation again, I pray that I will remember this experience and show humility by not being afraid to express what I need. I also pray that anyone else who may stumble on this blog who is going through a similar situation will do the same. From bible studies I have done, I know there are verses in the bible warning against comparing oneself to others, and now I have a first-hand understanding and appreciation for these verses. Blindness is only one of many factors in someone’s identity, and the blind community is comprised of people with varying degrees of blindness. I am totally blind, but some people are considered legally blind but have some vision. This doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges compared to a fully sighted person, but even a little bit of vision goes a long way sometimes, as well as when someone lost their sight. For example, someone who loses their sight later in life has more difficulty learning braille. But these people often have an easier time grasping orientation and mobility skills like crossing streets and navigating sidewalks because they have seen, and therefore have a better conceptual understanding of what an intersection is than someone like me. There are also other factors having nothing to do with blindness such as personality, educational opportunities, genetics which my parents say has more to do with how directionally challenged I am than my blindness, or other medical issues and disabilities. All this is to say that Jesus is right in saying we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others because every person and situation is unique and where God may have limited me in some areas, I know he has gifted me in others. If we live our lives stuck in pride and seeking to prove ourselves in situations that aren’t appropriate for us, we may be missing out on the unique life God wants for us.
Once God had developed in me the wisdom to fully understand this, I also had an easier time accepting the fact that by switching to part-time employment, it would not be financially feasible for me to live on my own. I had dreamed of living on my own since college because as is the case with all young adults, my parents were starting to drive me crazy. But it would be a lie to say there wasn’t also an ulterior motive of wanting to prove to others in the blind community that I could figure things out on my own. Most of my life, I have felt judged by teachers of the visually impaired and other blind people because I wasn’t as proficient in orientation and mobility or daily living skills like cooking. I was comparing myself to others as I only recently became secure in myself enough to realize that my situation is unique. I am totally blind, have other medical issues and grew up in a suburban environment where I didn’t have as many opportunities to practice orientation and mobility because there is no bus service or access to sidewalks.
But if I had put the goal of living on my own above all else, I would have no choice but to forego work/life balance to pay for it. I would not have had the time, nor the space that I have living with my parents to host a bible study group on Monday nights which is now the highlight of the week for me and several other members going through difficult circumstances. It so happened that when I volunteered to host a group in September, I was told that the church had been looking for a house in my area because until I came along, there were no bible study groups in my particular neighborhood. If I had insisted on living on my own, I would be preparing my own dinner, which would have been a frozen dinner after a long day of work rather than the wonderful casseroles my mom puts in the oven before leaving to pick me up, and I would have been eating this dinner alone rather than the conversation and laughter I enjoy with my parents every night. If I had insisted on living on my own, I would not be back to singing in choir again because in addition to being exhausted from full-time work, it would have been a tremendous expense to get transportation from my apartment to the site where the choir rehearses.
In college I felt like a failure when due to many circumstances, I could not handle living in the dorm and became a commuter student. But then, I would meet fully sighted students who told me they lived with their parents as this worked better for them too, and saved them a lot of money. When I recently confided feeling like a failure to one of my friends in bible study because I still lived with my parents, she said she still lives with her parents and has felt the same way too. From there we had a beautiful conversation about the importance of doing what was right for our unique circumstances despite contrary social pressure, after which I think we both felt less alone. A lot of my co-workers tell me I am lucky as they wish they could still live with their parents. I am still a work in progress, but I think I am gradually developing the maturity and confidence of these amazing friends from college and bible study as I realize that by living a humble life accepting my unique circumstances rather than trying to fight them and prove myself in situations that aren’t appropriate for me, I am in a better position to use the many gifts God has given me, and embrace a far more rewarding life than I would have had if I had given into pride.