By Ron Price
Do you have someone in your life who drives you crazy? At least, some of the time? I suspect we all do. Quite often, the thing that frustrates us is that we see something they don’t see. We recognize their behavior as being overly self-serving, egotistical, or even self-limiting. We may feel they shirk responsibility, carry an attitude of entitlement, or complain about others without realizing their own weaknesses.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is in our family, our businesses, or our social circles; we all have some folks who get us agitated.
Over the years, I have slowly realized that these people often are the catalysts for some of my best personal growth. The irritations that bubble up in me cause me to think deeper in an effort to fix the other person or understand my own reactions. One thing I have noticed when I self-evaluate deeply is that often, the very weakness they are demonstrating exists in me also. The person who speaks too much and listens too little—how often have I been guilty of the same. The person that always has an excuse for not following through on a commitment—how often have I been guilty of the same. The person who has a big blind spot regarding a situation—how often have I been guilty of the same. This connection between the thing that irritates me and the thing I’m also guilty of has been true so often that now I look for my own weakness as a matter of habit whenever I find myself irritated with someone else.
Blind spots. This is one of the biggest weaknesses I am becoming more aware of in myself. I often jokingly say to others, “the problem with blind spots is that you can’t see them”. Sounds like a Yogi Berra quote. I also say with a sense of self-deprecating sarcasm, “It seems that everyone has blind spots but me!”
As I have reflected more on blind spots over the last several months, I have concluded that there are at least three reasons for blind spots. The first is best understood by thinking about how our natural vision can be compromised through physical conditions, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or other incremental forms of blindness. These usually aren’t our fault; they are just our condition. We need help, either through someone “seeing” for us, or through a medical procedure that promises to improve our vision. Often times, we get this help in our personal growth by becoming receptive to feedback from someone we trust, who we know has our best interests at heart.
The second kind of blind spots come from wearing “blinders,” the patches that are often put on horses to prevent them from being distracted. The problem with us is that our blinders are self-created, made up of biases, prejudices, discriminations, and various kinds of denial. Instead of opening ourselves to new possibilities and insights, we become rigid in our opinions. My greatest danger is becoming rigid in my opinions about myself, which is the most dangerous form of denial.
The third kind of blind spots comes from our inability to connect with other people’s experiences. There is such a large gap between the life we have lived and the life they live that we cannot fully grasp or understand what they are going through or how we may be able to help. One example of this, which I think we all share, is some degree of ignorance or blindness in how the world appears distinctive to someone of a different gender, ethnicity, demographic, or nationality (and the list can go on and on). One early insight into this blindness came to me while I was listening to one of our adult children explain what it was like to grow up in our family. We had both lived through many of the same events, but as I listened, I was shocked to learn that we had totally different experiences. I was in a position of power as our children grew up. I had a different worldview shaped by all of my previous experiences. I even had a different set of intentions. Listening to this adult child’s description of life in our family exposed a significant gap in my understanding or appreciation for their experience. And this is nothing compared to understanding the experiences of most others who grew up in different families, cities, countries, or cultures.
Blind spots. We all have them. We think we see and understand, but we never see and understand as we should. And this is why I’m grateful for those who disrupt my comfortable, convenient life. This is why I’m grateful for those who irritate, frustrate, or seek to educate me about my own blind spots. Without their help, I would never see them.