This weekend I was able to hear the last fifteen minutes of one of my favorite radio series, This American Life. It always seems like such a treat when I’m able to catch to these shows in “real time” (not just on my podcast playlist!) and I’m particularly jazzed that I caught some of this week’s episode, which was titled Batman. Here’s the synopsis:
“Can other people’s expectations of you alter what you can do physically? Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller of NPR’s new radio show and podcast Invisibilia investigate that question – specifically, they look into something that sounds impossible: if people’s expectations can change whether a blind man can see.”
Intriguing, right? If you didn’t hear it yourself, I hope you’ll take my word for it when I say “Yes. Yes. Yes.” Though the whole episode is interesting, the ending, which looks at how people who are blind learn the skill of echolocation, is really neat. To try and sum it up, in order for a blind person to effectively learn how to bounce sound off their environment as a way of self-navigating, they essentially have to be allowed to get lost and find their way to safety.
As you might imagine, this process is both hard for the person trying to navigate and the people charged with protecting this person (ie: parents, spouses, siblings, etc…) Not only do these “protectors” have to watch the ones they love travel through confusing and dangerous situations but they also have to resist the urge to jump in and rescue this person. Allowing the blind person to find her own boundaries is what eventually leads to her being able to effectively self-navigate. When the protector instinct interrupts this process it not only keeps the blind person from learning echolocation but from developing further self-sufficiency. As the interviewer puts it, in some cases “love gets in the way.”
This line really stayed with me. I thought of the times in my life when I have felt over-protected and when I have played the role of protector for the ones I love. As mentioned in my last post Healthy Boundaries, we have this popular misconception floating around that says we must save those we love from ever having to experience danger, pain, or rock bottom. And it’s popular for a reason: again, this protector piece is sort of hard wired within us and of course, it isn’t a completely bad thing! Where we go wrong is when we allow these instincts to overshadow our recognition of another person’s abilities.
When these abilities go unrecognized and we dive in to save the ones we love every time they go near danger we rob them of rich learning opportunities and chances for growth. Perhaps we do this with ourselves as well, shielding ourselves from discomfort in the name of self-care when really, we could be growing through the challenge.