I once had a student in my class who has such limited vision that he is legally blind. Despite his handicap he was fully engaged in life. He wrote to tell me he is about to graduate with a master’s degree. I felt inspired by his accomplishment. I was not however prepared for what he said next.
He explained that he has just taken on a new project. He has always loved aviation and regretted that because of his eyesight he could not become a pilot. Yet earlier this year he saw a video in which a man with his same disease was flying. The man had been a pilot until the disease took his vision. He then lost his license. Yet his pilot friends still took him up and allowed him to sit in the pilot’s seat. My former student was inspired, so he contacted the local flying club and asked if he could try an introductory flight. They responded positively. In writing of the experience, he makes a statement that I deeply value.
“Last month I was finally able to fly with a volunteer club member after almost 20 years of negative self-assumptions. It was one of the single most powerful and empowering experiences of my life. I actually feel different in my daily life—more confident and self-assured, less anxious. It’s absolutely amazing that one hour can have such a profound impact on a person.”
Although he cannot ultimately get his license, the club has agreed to support him in pursuing instruction. He has made a video of some of his experiences and when he shows it to students with visual impairments and to others, the response is very positive. He says, “I feel like I am spreading something amazing as I share this experience.”
Those feelings inspired him to launch a video documentary of his progress through flight instruction. He plans to do a short video that explores the “bounds and rough edges of disability and ableism.” He wants people to understand and be inspired by the experience of flying blind.
Each of us has an identity built on positive and negative self-assumptions. The assumptions come from our experience. There are things, for example, I “know” I cannot and will not ever do. So I fear and avoid circumstances that may require me to engage in such activities.
Yet my assumptions are just beliefs and beliefs can change. My very identity can and does change with new experiences. When I occasionally do something that challenges and changes my “negative self-assumptions” I have an “empowering” experience that causes me to be “more confident and self-assured, less anxious.” This is a positive change in identity, and in how I see myself.
When I have a deep change experience, I more fully love myself and this makes it possible for me to more fully love others. This love for others often is manifest in the desire to help them realize the potential they might not see in themselves. It is not surprising that my student suddenly has a desire to make a video that might empower others.
In these moments of deep change, I also tend to become aware of the agency of others. My eventual challenge is to get them to let go and to “fly blind” but they cannot be forced by my “authority.” They must be attracted to the fearful commitment by my authenticity. I must lead them without authority. Positive leaders must offer an image of the future that generates hope and simultaneously offers unconditional support for the pursuit of that hope. The people need to have faith in the possible future and faith in the supportive present. When they develop such faith, they may dare to move forward and learn.
Helping a person to fly blind, or to build the bridge as they walk on it, is a great and empowering contribution that results in a positive identity change, or deep change. Helping a team, organization, or community to make deep change is also a great and empowering contribution that results in a more positive culture. Executing either has a lasting impact on them and on us. We need to better understand and lead the deep change process.
When have I dared to fly blind?
When have I helped someone else fly blind?
How could we use this passage to build a more positive organization?