This IDAP interview features Isaac Lidsky, a former clerk for US Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He is also the founder of various startups and nonprofits, a graduate of Harvard (cum laude), and New York Times best-selling author of his book ‘Eyes Wide Open’.
In this interview, Isaac shares why his experience of gradually losing eyesight due to ‘retinitis pigmentosa’ was “one of the best things that happened” to him. He developed life-changing insights, like the revelation that sight is merely a mental construct consisting of ones’ beliefs, emotions, conceptual knowledge, and cognitive interpretations. He also elaborated on why he believes everyone is disabled in some sense, either by self-limiting constructs, or others’ conceptions of them. In this powerful interview, he discusses how focusing on tangible, productive, and actionable perspectives allowed him to fully embrace his reality and the elusive in-between of acceptance and surrender.
This interview was conducted by Anusha Reddy and Rahul Bajaj, transcribed by Rahul Bajaj and Maggie Huang, and lightly edited by Maggie Huang and Swati Singh.
1. You gradually lost your eyesight between the ages of 13 and 35 on account of a retina condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. Can you briefly comment on how the experience of losing sight in a long drawn out slog was for you, and how different for you was it being born blind, or losing one’s eyesight in a sudden accident?
I gained a tremendous amount of insight into the way the human mind works by losing eyesight. I lost my sight slowly and gradually over time. I grew up with ‘normal’ sight, and it wasn’t really until my teens that I started losing my sight. I’ve lived as a blind man in my early to mid-twenties, so I’ve had that experience too. Throughout the middle of my journey of slowly and progressively losing my sight over time, there was a lot of bizarre, visual effects.
I usually explain it like this — there is an illusion of sight, and an illusion that what we see is some objective truth that is out there. That broke apart for me as my sight deteriorated. All these strange and morphing objects disappeared, and I realized the extent to which my mind was actively involved in the process of trying to decipher the visual information I was getting from my eyes, and that information got worse and worse. That really led to a peek behind the curtain in the way that the human mind works, how powerful our minds are, and how much of what we experience — how much of our lives, are really our minds’ own creation. Those insights have been very rewarding in my life.
2. As a follow-up on that, do you think that perhaps your experience would have been different had you been born blind or become blind in the midst of an accident as opposed to when you went blind?
I’m certain it would have been different. It’s an impossibility, though, to go back and imagine how your life would have changed, if things were different here and there, considering our lives are so chaotic. I have a hard time even with the concept of trying to think “oh, what would have my life have been like had this one thing happen” so I don’t think about it. Of course, everyone’s experience is totally different and unique in their own minds. I definitely thought my early childhood shattered my life; the odd journey of losing my sight, becoming partially sighted, and now blind. I try very hard not to regret any minute of my life and take what I can learn from it.
3. Having been sighted and then gone blind, how important, do you think, are visual cues as a blind person? Moving your hands while talking, while addressing the room, moving your body to face the audience — that a person who’s blind from birth may not grasp but someone who’s lost sight gradually would know. So how important do you think these visual cues are? In everyday conversation, while addressing gatherings and meetings, etc.?
There’s no doubt that we are inherently visual creatures, and that people take a lot of information from visual cues, sighted cues. I often think sighted folks greatly overestimate the value or accuracy of the information they get through their eyes, and sometimes that actually gets in the way.‘Coping’ or trying to act ‘normal’ — to what extent should folks with blindness or other disabilities make a conscious effort to ‘fit in’ or ‘play the part’’ of someone in a sighted world? There, my personal view is that, first and foremost, for everyone — those with disabilities and those without — (I believe everyone is disabled in some sense, by the way. Everyone has disabilities. They either create themselves in their minds, or through the way that others are perceiving them). Putting that aside, I think it’s important for everyone to really accept who they are, what they are, what’s important to them, and who they want to be. To an extent that involves being comfortable with behaving in a way that’s “abnormal” or not the average way to behave. It’s important for all of us to do what it is that makes ourselves comfortable, that feels true to who we are. We need to start there, and the rest follows.
4. Thanks for that, but I think the question my colleague was getting at was perhaps more on whether your access to vision for the first 13 years of your life enabled you to act in ways that other sighted people can. I think your answer was more on whether we should expect people to behave as those who are sighted in the first place. As a practical matter, would you say that you had developed skills while you were sighted that helps you now?
I would hesitate to use the word ‘help’. I think there are all sorts of judgments around that idea. There’s no doubt that because I grew up with sight, had ‘normal’ sight in my teens, and had a great deal of useful sight until I was in my very late teens and early twenties. I use facial expressions and gestures, and tend to turn my face to look in the direction of the person to whom I’m speaking. I sort of behave in ways that folks would assume the sighted can. There’s a question that’s true for my experience – whether it would be different if I was born blind or lost my sight at a much younger age. Does it help, does it hurt, is it important, is it not, who knows? My answer would be, who knows?
5. One of the most powerful parts of your book was when you described having an epiphany in the office of your occupational therapist. You realised that “there is no such thing as blindness, but only fire hydrants — those who are unaware of my challenges: disappearing computer pointers on the screen, and an open landscape of practicalities stretching to the horizon.” You also talked about distinguishing Blindness with a capital B — this amorphous idea of suffering from a monstrous disability that people fear so much; versus blindness with a small b, which entails the practical challenges of being blind which can very much be addressed if one has the right mindset and support system.
Similarly, a lot of blind people are unable to cross the threshold of accepting their blindness, even if admitting that reality would make their lives much easier. This tendency manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as when blind people prefer using magnified text, which you also referred to in your book, as opposed to using screen reading software which would make their life easier. Or choosing not to use a cane which would make it far easier to navigate independently.
What advice do you have for those who are confronting these challenges?
In the sort of dark years, the early years when I was trying to make sense of the diagnosis and dealing with the odd state of losing my sight, I spent a lot of time, effort, and energy worrying about all sorts of awful scenarios, and tormenting myself with these very grim visions of what an awful life I would live when I was blind, and what that would look like. I struggled with notions of weakness, vulnerability, competence, and resistance, you know, using a cane and things like that for a very long time.
Frankly, I wasn’t even necessarily conscious of the fact that that’s what it was. That’s a real thing. It wasn’t terribly productive, and that’s something to reflect on. I look back on those years and realise how mistaken I was. In some respects, I was choosing to live in this awful world between my ears. And really not doing anything to help myself day in and day out.
The epiphany you speak of was realizing this in occupational therapy. Showing up in the first meeting thinking we would be talking about blindness. This fake future, this foreboding doom and gloom. This sort of amorphous, unspecified death sentence in my life.
Unspecified what sorry?
Death sentence, because I was convinced that blindness was the end of my life as I knew it. I would cease to achieve. All these awful lies we tell ourselves that we believe. So I had these thoughts in my head when I showed up at the occupational therapist’s office. And right off the bat, she had no interest in any of that relatively unproductive type of thought or discussion. She wanted to dive in about very practical and specific things I could be doing to make my life easier, to make my life better. Such as learning how to use a cane, different guides to walk around more naturally, safety, techniques for my clothing, screen reading software, as you said earlier. And it really struck me there, in her office that day, that really, all there ever is, is this moment right now that we are experiencing in our lives. That’s all there is. All that ever will be that’s true is right now, at this moment. And when we are sort of pulled into this unhelpful perspective of thinking about things in this grey end, this morose morbid kind of awfulizing way of looking at our challenges, it’s bad in the moment, and it prevents us from making any progress. I decided in her office that day that I was going to change my perspective; that I was going to focus on the moment right now, on small practical, discrete challenges, specific things that I could do, to make my life a little easier and a little better.
A big part of that was exploring the elusive in-between of acceptance and surrender. We can confuse the two in our minds. And for a lot of us, the challenge in overcoming adversity in our lives is in understanding where that line is, and how we’re going to live a life of acceptance and surrender. So that took a lot of work on my part and ultimately, it was very productive.
6. So, to summarise, the question being, ‘what’s the advantage for those who have crossed that similar threshold, over those who are hesitating’, I think the advice would perhaps be that, recognising it’s more the mental construct of blindness that’s the impediment, and not so much the actual fact of being blind that is important. And the moment one’s able to deal with that mental construct, we can move on and move forward. Would that be a fair summary?
Yes, in part that’s a large part of it. You’re absolutely right. It’s the idea that, like it or not, this is the challenge you confront in your life, whether it’s blindness or any other disability, or any other challenge. You can wish it weren’t so, you can try to deny it to yourself, you can avoid it; but ultimately, life will go by. You are solely responsible for the reality you create for yourself day in and day out. Look, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to look weak and vulnerable with a cane. People will pity me.” But what’s the alternative? Continue to try to cope? Hurt myself? Be anxious and stressful all the time? Who cares what others think and feel and say? What do I think and feel about myself, the choices that I made?
7. I wish I had met you 10 years earlier. These are the questions I used to confront recently, and still do but, yeah I think that’s a very important perspective.
So the next question is — the attitude that a lot of outsiders have towards blindness is also premised upon treating blindness with a capital B as opposed to a small b. So for instance, you see this in the behaviour of families who prevent their child from experiencing things in a bid to protect them, even though the child is fully able to do so. Or an employer who simply refuses to hire someone with a disability, when they can practically do everything the job requires. You talk in your book about how there was a partner who couldn’t believe you could send emails when you had in fact drafted a memo all on your own. How, according to you can we deal with the issue of others treating your blindness with a capital B? You’ve spoken about how persons with disabilities can respond, but how can we deal with the problem of others treating it this way?
I think it’s sort of a fundamental part of the human condition that we make assumptions about others whom we encounter. I think we do that in millions of ways all day long. In small ways that we never noticed. In the world of physically noticeable disabilities, whether using a cane or a wheelchair, in some respects at least, you kind of know that this is an issue that you’re going to confront. Suppose you have no experience with the blind for example. You’re willing to confront the lack of familiarity. In some respects, it’s a disadvantage. In the workplace, for example, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of practise, to try to be hyper-rational and logical and sort of brutally analytical in sorting out where you think folks are making assumptions about you, prejudging your abilities, limiting you in some way, and really convince yourself to what extent that’s true, to what extent it’s important, to what extent you can do something about it.
There are instances still, in my life, and I’m sure in everyone’s lives, where maybe someone says something and it’s suggestive of ignorance or misperception but, at the end of the day, it really just doesn’t matter at all. Maybe they touched upon a sensitivity that’s more in your mind than theirs. So, the big part of it is your being at peace in that situation, being able to step back and get through them.
That said, and I talk about this in greater length in the book, where it is actionable, where maybe a colleague or a boss is making assumptions that impact your career, or your advancement, or your working conditions, or those kinds of things, then it’s an opportunity to try to educate folks. And it’s not always fun to do. It’s a burden. But I guess my answer or response is — so what? What is the better alternative? I try to focus primarily on what are the effective ways in which I can educate folks.
Again, when confronting folks, what really matters is which misunderstandings or assumptions are being made. That matters in what I’m trying to accomplish, or how I’m trying to live my life.
8. You clerked with Justice O’Connor, who was the first woman to serve in the Supreme Court. And you mentioned in your book that she was turned down by 40 law firms despite being 3rd in her class at Stanford, just on account of the fact that she is a woman. Justice O’Connor once said, “for both men and woman, the first step in getting power is to become visible to others. And then to put on an impressive show. As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. Society sees women can do it. As women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things. And we’ll all be better off for it.”
How true in your experience does this hold for the disabled as well? How in your view can the disabled become more visible?
That’s a great question. I mean, I think it’s very true. I think it’s true for everyone. We are the way we’re wired. We’re built to infer, assume, and reason from past experiences. And when we confront people who are facing challenges or issues or experiences that are outside of our knowledge, we make all sorts of assumptions. And again we’re wired to do it.
Those folks who have certain obvious or apparent disabilities, whether they like it or not, or ought to or not, they face opportunities as counterexamples, as a new data point for those around them to update their understanding of the worldview, the assumptions being made about people with disabilities. It’s not necessarily a job or opportunity that we’ve asked for, or that we want. But like it or not, it’s there. I will say that one of the things I’ve endeavoured to do is to make sure that I cite examples of folks who have been far more dramatic or compelling than I can point to in my life. For example, in the case of blindness, there’s a gentleman named Eric Weihenmayer.
I read his book … ‘Touch the top of the World’?
Yes, exactly. Weihenmayer, despite blindness, climbed the highest peak, the Mount Everest, and has done amazing things. There have definitely been numerous times in my life when in conversations I have been asked whether I can read or send emails on my own, or things that seem trivial. You need to, I think, first and foremost, accept with grace and patience that people are curious, and you can’t expect them to know how everything works in your life. Yes, they’re making assumptions about you, not necessarily coming from a bad place. I appreciate the opportunity to explain to you explain how I send an email, but I’ve got to tell you, there’s really no limit to what we can accomplish despite the disability or other limitation. Eric Weihenmayer you know, climbed Mount Everest. There are other blind athletes, basketball players… That’s one technique I love to use.
9. So that’s’ another thing to work on in this interview series. To write off the point that for someone like you in the Supreme Court, working in a law firm is no big deal, right. I completely relate to where you’re coming from when you say that.
Thank you, it’s kind of a double-edged thing. Some will say – “Wow, you’re the only blind person to have gotten to the Supreme Court”. But it’s not actually all that awesome. I wish there were a lot more blind people going to the United States Supreme Court. If anything, the takeaway is not – “Wow, I’m some comic book character”. Really anyone can do it; it’s not a big deal. So I definitely try to use my experiences/accomplishments to try to educate folks on the nature of my disability.
10. You talk in your book about how one should live in consonance with 3 key values — material wealth, existence, and creating a legacy. But can you briefly comment on how, first, these three in your view constitute a good life, and second, what principles should one adopt to deal with situations when these three come in conflict with each other?
We, in the business world, use these simple yet incredibly powerful tools to assess the performance of a business to guide and channel our efforts. The balance sheet, the profit and loss statement, the income and expenses, and the notion of capital flow. Like I said, these are remarkable tools that are related to the industry in ways that we use to assess the performance of a business.
It struck me at a pretty important turning point in my life, that we can really use the same concepts to assess ourselves, and whether with the choices we’re making, are we loving the lives we are living? Are we the parents we want to be? Are we the colleagues we want to be? Are we the type of bosses that we want to be?
People may make different choices. Some may value creating a legacy above all else. For me, the main things are material possessions, an existence which entails such things as health and integrity, and how I would want to be remembered in terms of my work and relationships after I am gone. I would encourage people to spend some time thinking about the key values that they’d like to live by, and then assess their choices based on their stated values. You may roll your eyes after hearing all this, but the fact of the matter is that we’re all making choices – prioritizing certain things/ thoughts/ emotions over others. This being so, I would encourage people to do this proactively, i.e. with intention and awareness rather than merely by happenstance – without thought.
11. Follow-up: One of our previous interviewees, spoke about how he has always prioritized relationships. Would you similarly say that you prioritize your relationships – with your family, friends, and colleagues – the existence rubric – over material wealth and legacy?
I don’t think it’s that simple. To illustrate, let us talk about health. Imagine you are in a relationship which might jeopardize your health – would you want to continue such a relationship? Probably not. That said, for me, the legacy piece has always been very important. What we are able to leave behind – both in terms of our relationships as well as the effort I put into my business. If I had to prioritize things, I’d say my role as a father, the relationship that I have with my children, the opportunities that I share with them, the ability to love them, and the impact that I am able to create in their lives and, hopefully, even after I am gone is what I prioritize. I’m not saying that this is the right answer; this is just my answer.
12. In the book, you use the example of the game of poker and the story of a musician whose shot to fame may come across, at first blush, as a function of luck. But on deeper examination, one realizes that it is a function of skill, effort and a tremendous amount of hard work. Many people have the propensity to ascribe their lack of success in any endeavor to circumstances beyond their control – whether it be lack of luck or the conduct of others. What advice do you have for them?
I firmly believe that the circumstances that we confront in our lives do not have to dictate the lives we lead – that is entirely within our control. For instance, there have been many prisoners of war who endured unspeakable torture and were yet able to extract meaning from their lives, transcend these obstacles and move forward and were better off for it. People have to endure unspeakable challenges – loss of loved ones, even their own children, and so on and so forth. Conversely, there are folks who seemingly (I say seemingly because we never really know what is going on in someone’s life) have it all and yet, by all measures, are miserable and unhappy. For me, one of the warning traps to detect that I am going down the wrong path is when I start thinking about luck – how lucky you are or cursing your luck? That begs the question: what are you doing about it? What are the choices that you are making? I think we oversimplify the idea of luck – thinking in terms of the binary of good and bad luck, whereas I think the truth is always in the middle. I use the example of my blindness – was I unlucky to go blind? Well, who knows how my life would have been if I had not gone blind. And by the way, I gained several key insights after going blind – it led to a beautiful and wonderful life and I wouldn’t want to change anything about it. Same is the case with control – falling into the binary of what is and is not within our control. To my mind, it is in the middle – we have a far greater ability to control and influence things in our lives than is immediately apparent.
13. You alluded to concentration camps and prisoners of war. In Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, he famously says,“between stimulus and response, there lies a space, and in that space lies true freedom”.
That book is remarkable and I think, should be required reading for all. Here was a man in the worst possible circumstances who made a choice – “they have my body, but they will never be able to control my mind”. He found meaning, purpose and joy in the most horrific circumstances. You read that, and you think – each moment of your life, you are literally choosing how you’d like to lead your life. You can, for instance, choose to be happy [laughs to make a good point]. And we can choose to let go of insecurities, vanities, distrust and instead seek connection with those around us. To my mind, it all boils down to choice.
14. On multiple occasions, you have stated that one of the key factors that have propelled your success is that you are brutally honest to yourself and hold yourself accountable for all your actions as opposed to living by happenstance. Some disabled people, whether consciously or unconsciously, harbor the belief that life doesn’t apply to them and use their disability as the basis to absolve themselves of certain obligations that their able-bodied counterparts are expected to discharge. What are your views about this and do you have any concrete and actionable insights that can help them deal with this?
Firstly, I think brutal, unforgiving and uncompromising honesty is the way to go. Insofar as my blindness is concerned, I have always maintained that the line between acceptance and surrender is very important. Second, there are things that we know we do not know. And then there are things that we wrongly think we know but in fact, don’t. I think that the things we wrongly think we know, can get us into a lot of trouble – the self-limiting assumptions that we make or thinking that there are things that you cannot or shouldn’t be asked to do. I made a choice very early on – whenever I feel the urge to forgo an opportunity or not attend an event, etc., on account of my blindness, I force myself to do the thing that I have inhibitions about. I try to keep in mind the distinction between don’t want to/ choose not to/ not important to me/ rather not, on the one hand, and ‘I can’t’ on the other. So whenever people with disabilities start thinking that they shouldn’t have to do something or can’t do something – red flags should go up and alarm bells should ring. You should think: is this really true? Is there a basis for me to arrive at this conclusion? The problem with these self-limiting assumptions that we make is that they’re self-fulfilling. Everyone makes these self-limiting assumptions. For me, every human being is disabled.
15. You’ve stated a bunch of times in your interviews that you think everyone is disabled in some way or form. In saying so, aren’t you obliterating the distinction between those with significant impairments, such as sensory and physical impairments, and those who, for instance, have to deal with self-limiting assumptions, and are thereby doing a disservice to the former? To illustrate, when the Black Lives Matter movement began gaining ground in the US, some started saying All Lives Matter. This was widely seen as undercutting the salience of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
I don’t think everyone’s challenges are the same. Rather, I don’t think anyone has the right to compare their challenges to those of others. Every human being lives in their own world and they have their own mindset, experiences and thoughts. I find it most unproductive and abhorrent when people compare challenges and make assumptions. For instance, thinking that because one is blind, one must necessarily have a more challenging and difficult life than others who have no apparent disability to speak of. I think the human spirit is miraculous. In my mind, the difference is in our perspective and the things we tell ourselves, because there are people who’ve pursued their dreams and aspirations despite facing all manner of obstacles.
16. When we do take the view that everyone is disabled, it absolves the government of their obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with profound disabilities?
No no [laughs]. When I say that, what I mean is that it behooves us all to make a much greater effort to seek to understand those around us rather than to judge them; to relate to others rather than to condemn, and to live with grace. By no means am I suggesting that there should be no provisions made in our society for those with profound disabilities. To the contrary, when I say that, the point that I’m trying to make is that a disability arises only when physical or mental limitations that one possesses interact with the physical environment or social norms within the confines of which one operates. It arises on account of the assumptions that we make about others. Given that we make all sorts of assumptions about all kinds of people, I think we’re all disabled in some sense.
17. To summarize, what you’re saying is that, it would be wrong to view this as a zero-sum game in terms of thinking that my challenges are greater than yours. Rather, the premise should be that everyone deserves to be treated with empathy, rather than thinking that no one deserves empathy as we are all disabled?
Yeah. Take the example of the blind person who goes into a restaurant with their own anxieties about how they’ll be treated and starts off on the wrong foot with the waitress, thinking that she’s treating him in a patronizing way. What he doesn’t realize is that this young woman may be a single mother, who lost her husband owing to a medical issue and has to commute two hours each day to and from work to make ends meet. In summary, everyone has their struggles and we should seek to understand first and judge later or not at all.
18. In your book, you state that: “I regret it when others hope to find in me an outlet for charity, an object for pity, or an exemplar of misery and misfortune”. I am wondering what you think about the extent to which one’s disability is an impediment in realizing one’s full potential. On this issue, one school of thought is that the disabled should not be deified for their accomplishments and that this amounts to inspiration porn as one’s disability is nothing but another attribute of one’s personality. On the other hand, there are those who believe that treating the disabled and able-bodied on the same footing results in completely negating the challenges that flow from one’s disability and, in some sense, also devalues the extra effort that a disabled person has to put in, in order to accomplish anything meaningful, in light of the fact that the odds are heavily stacked against them. Given that you have scaled many remarkable heights, how significant an impediment has your disability been in pursuing your goals?
I think the truth is nuanced and complex and I would shy away from giving a simple explanation. It’s too simplistic to even ask the question of whether my accomplishments should be assessed in light of my blindness. Should people forget the fact that I am blind? Surely not. Should they factor my blindness into the equation when assessing what I have done? Certainly. Would I like to be seen as a blind man? Definitely not. For me, my blindness is as much a part of my life as the ten million other things that go to define a person – my height and so on. It’s just that people think that my blindness makes me different because it is apparent and visible, but I regard it as being nothing more than the 10 million other things that define me.
19. You graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked with two Supreme Court Justices, worked at a leading international law firm. Eight years later, you decided to give up a lucrative career in law and follow your true calling and become a struggling entrepreneur. The decision to give up a lucrative and comfortable job to pursue an off-beat career path is unfathomable to most. What advice would you give to those of us who are keen on using our legal acumen and knowledge in fields other than law, and what are the key points we should keep in mind before taking that big step?
It’s funny that you say that it is unfathomable. To me, the idea that is unfathomable is what is unfathomable. To me, we get to choose how we’d like to spend our time, what we’d like to do with our lives. If we’re not asking ourselves these questions and trying to figure out if the answers are consistent with what we’d like to be, then I think that’s a real shame. For me, I had a great career in the law – in the Justice Department and the Supreme Court. Then I found myself working for this big international law firm, expected to work crazy hours, doing things I didn’t find all that rewarding, with people I didn’t admire greatly (obviously, there were some people I admired). So I couldn’t conceive of the possibility of remaining in that job and in that situation. When my wife gave birth to triplets, working 80-90 hours a week didn’t make sense.
20. In your book, you mention that the self-limiting assumptions we make are buried deep and easily missed. You explain this with an example from your own life – you were invited to throw the first pitch at a baseball game and you thought that the idea was crazy. However, overcoming your inhibitions, you did practice and on game day, threw a strike. Often times, one fails to even recognize the self-limiting assumptions. What exercises can one do identify these assumptions and take the steps necessary to overcome the fear associated with them?
This relates to what we were talking about earlier – gaining perspective. Whenever you choose not to do something when you have the opportunity or to forgo a promotion, it’s important to be clear whether you choose not to do something because you can’t or shouldn’t. With the pitch, I asked myself whether it was something that I really couldn’t do or chose not to and I had to come to terms with the fact that it was the latter. Eric Weihenmayer climbed Mount Everest – it’s got to be possible for me to throw a pitch. Why don’t I give it a try- explore the option and do some work. And once I decided to try, it really wasn’t all that hard.
21. The central idea that permeates your book is that the loss of your eyesight helped you develop what you describe as the ‘Eyes Wide Open’ approach to life which entails breaking down a complex problem into manageable components and then addressing each of them. Some would argue that this perspective is founded upon a conflation of causation and correlation. In other words, in light of the fact that a lot of blind people are not able to develop the kind of wisdom that you did, your blindness was not the causative factor that helped you develop this enlightened perspective but this is attributable to your own maturity and effort. How would you respond to this argument?
Going blind was one of the best things that happened to me, and it gave me tremendous insights. I mean that with precision. The experience of sight is compelling, it’s immersive –seeing is believing. As I gradually lost my eyesight and this illusion of sight got shattered, I realized that sight is nothing like that. It is purely a mental construction – a combination of your beliefs, emotions, conceptual knowledge, your brain making guesses. It’s only 10% information from the eyes. That was eye-opening for me. I got to experience firsthand that we create the reality that we live in, and all that we consider as the sense of sight are the machinations of our own mind. If we’re not careful, we tend to regard this as the truth. The beautiful thing about the Eyes Wide Open approach is that we are fully empowered to take control of our lives. The insights that I acquired, I am convinced to my core, are universal and available to everyone.
22. You might be familiar with the idea of antifragility – an idea developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb essentially argues that those who face significant obstacles and hardships in life develop far more resilience and grit than those who have not faced such hardships. You have stated that you are grateful about the fact that you became blind, in that that has helped you lead a far more productive and fulfilling life. So we were wondering what you think about Taleb’s idea and if your own experience bears this out?
Sure, so that’s an idea that I have some trouble with- the belief that true insights and resilience can only be borne from adversity. If I thought that way, I would not have written the book. I think that we can derive value from every experience we have with effort and purpose. We can overlook countless such opportunities at a smaller scale that we face in our lives everyday. So one can make a conscious choice to gain the knowledge and insights that are there for taking in every experience.
The IDAP interview series aims to solicit actionable insights from lawyers with disabilities on the strategies adopted by them to excel in their field. The series also seeks to educate and increase awareness within the legal fraternity, with the ultimate aim of fostering meaningful dialogue on reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. If you have any comments/feedback on our series or if you would like us to interview a lawyer, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read our other interviews here.