Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Giants through misfortune and what we can learn from them

With mounting amazement I read the story of Daniel Kish (The Blind Man Who Taught Himself To See).

Becoming blind pretty much sums up my biggest fear, I find it hard to even begin to imagine what that must be like, and closing your eyes for a few minutes and trying to get around in a room is not quite the same because you know that you can open them at any moment and resume your normal life. Imagine the lights to go out permanently, life as I know it would instantly end.

Not so for Daniel Kish. He’s giving hope to blind people around the world that there may be a way in which they can blend in to normal life in a way that does not make them dependent on those around them for lots of things.

One thing that struck me from the article is how unbelievably proud this man is, and how strongly he responds to the fact that people will - still - see him as different. As though cooking a meal or riding a bike is all that special, it isn’t to him, he does it all the time. But it is to us, because we compare him subconsciously with all the other blind people that we’ve interacted with and with our imaginary selves trying to achieve the same thing without our eyes closed or blindfolded.

I met a guy years ago who shared some of these qualities. His name is Rob K., he’s a Dutch businessman who ran an electronics/model aircraft store in the town of IJmuiden, near the coast. Rob had lost both legs after a light motorcycle (‘moped’) accident when he was 17.

Now, I’m pretty sure that he’d be the first to agree that that was a not-so-good experience but it changed him in a way that nothing else would. Instead of becoming depressed and letting it get to him Rob vowed to make the difference between himself and people with legs disappear.

He succeeded so well in this that to me his wheelchair and crutches became nearly invisible, and one day, in a moment of carelessness I asked him if he felt like a beach-walk. I never saw a smile that broad, he said ‘maybe not today’, with a wink and I realized that he’d convinced me that he was in no way different to anybody else but that there was this small thing that prevented him from taking a beach-walk today.

We talked a lot about the change of perspective due to his disability (or lack thereof). Rob had a car, got around, lived by himself, went out clubbing, eventually married and had kids, and he thought nothing special of it.

One thing that really bugged him is something that I see echoed in the article about Daniel Kish, that when ‘normal’ people see a person with some kind of handicap that they immediately assume that they must be feeble in the head and dependent as well. It upset him very much and after the first time when I offered to help Rob with something and the look he shot me I quickly learned to wait for him to ask for help. I think it happened exactly once over the years that we interacted.

Rob, Daniel and others like them are an inspiration to other people who have - as another friend of mine calls it - challenging bodies. But they also serve as an inspiration to the rest of us, the ones with ‘normal’ bodies. After all, if people that have been dealt a rotten hand like that by fate can make a go of it through sheer determination and focus then so can we, and with less effort.

People are changed in many ways by adversity, some give up, some become indifferent. And some of them will become giants in ways that they themselves would have possibly never thought possible beforehand. To me these people are living examples of our human potential and they serve as guides to let us know what we too can achieve, given focus, time and energy.

So, thank you, Daniel, thank you Rob. Not for cooking a meal, riding a bike, running a successful business or living a normal life. Thank you for being an example, for showing that no matter what happens in our lives there are ways to deal with it and to overcome adversity, to come out on top. And for showing that there really are no limits to what people can achieve if they want to.