4.5. The Human Being as a Developing Potential
Today we are strongly inclined to technologize every disability, conceiving it as wholly defined by a specific malfunction of a piece of machinery, and immediately setting about the task of "fixing" the malfunction, as if that were the whole story.
What Lusseyran's experience suggests is that this is only part of the story and perhaps the least important part. By restricting our notion of "seeing" to the narrowest of mechanisms the eyeball understood as a camera we close ourselves off to many of life's richest possibilities.
Lusseyran himself had little patience for such attitudes. Noting that the blind suffer greatly "from the inexperience of those who still have their eyes," he goes on to laud his parents,
whose hearts and intelligence were open to spiritual things, for whom the world was not composed exclusively of objects that were useful, and useful always in the same fashion; for whom, above all, it was not necessarily a curse to be different from other people. Finally, mine were parents willing to admit that their way of looking at things, the usual way, was perhaps not the only possible one, and to like my way and encourage it.
Indeed, as Lusseyran remarks elsewhere, after his accident his father said to him: "Always tell us when you discover something." What extraordinary and liberating advice! One of my own sons had experience of synaesthesia (perception of sound as color) when he was young, and I have often regretted our not having found a way to make a natural place for such experiences in the home. In general, I suspect that if the imaginations and perceptions of childhood above all, the perceptions of ensouled nature that come so naturally to children were not systematically suppressed by adult obtuseness, we would live in a radically different world today.
In the introduction to a collection of Lusseyran's essays (1999), Christopher Bamford mentions a Dutch girl born deaf. Remarkably, her parents decided to treat her as if she could hear. So they spoke to her constantly, read stories, sang songs. The girl grew up to be exceptionally intelligent and happy. And "she speaks clearly, without the slurring common among the deaf." Today she counsels the parents of deaf children. She also enjoys music and goes to concerts.
As Bamford observes, "Evidently we hear with more than our ears." In fact, "The story of the Dutch girl puts in question whether we ` hear' sound in the usual sense at all." His point, if I take him correctly, is that understanding comes to us along innumerable dimensions, the sum of which is that one person participates with another "in a world of love and meaning." To reduce the possibilities of that shared world to the bare potentials of an imagined set of one-dimensional mechanisms is to lose sight of nearly everything that counts.