What’s in a Name?

Words have power. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin knew it. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy used it. The old lady who asked me, “Whatcha gonna do with that white stick, sonny, hit me over the head?” abused it.

So what does the person who yelled, “Watch out!” say as I proceed, unheeding, toward the danger? Does he yell, “Hey, blind man, I said ‘Watch out!” If it saves my life, I’m all for it. Or should he couch it in more sensitive terms? “Hey, mister who happens to be visually impaired, you are about to fall down that manhole?” Might he take a non-visual tack? “You, sir, walking that big, black, beautiful dog in the harness, you must avoid that construction zone?” By the time I’ve figured out who he’s talking to, I’ve fallen on my face.

I have no problem being referred to as blind. Years ago, I was afraid of that word. It embodied shame and denial. The author, Mara Faulkner, in her wonderful book, “Going Blind: A Memoir,” writes, “One day, a woman asked, ‘Is your daddy blind?’ Feeling as if she had insulted him or accused him of something obscene, I said indignantly, ‘No, he just can’t see too well.’” The word blind is powerful. In the wrong hands, it conjures up myths and stereotypes. It can oversimplify a very complex phenomenon. While political correctness can protect us from hurtful labels, it also reduces us to the undefined and, irony of ironies, invisible. For me, I prefer being called blind to being described as, “Now, take Jeff over there, he’s, well, um, uh, well…you know.”

So, for everyone out there wondering what to call me, I’ll give you a clue. Blind is OK. But, to really grab my attention, “Hey, handsome!” sure does the trick too.

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5 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Beth says:

    This post is brilliant. I’m in a bit of a hurry this Monday morning, but I may be contacting you later to see if it’s okay to quote from (and link to) some of this on a post on my own blog. Great
    work, handsome!

    This post is brilliant. I’m in a bit of a hurry this Monday morning, but I may be contacting you later to see if it’s okay to quote from (and link to) some of this on a post on my own blog. Great
    work, handsome!

  2. bethfinke says:

    So good I guess I had to say it twice. Still getting used to these wordpress changes!

  3. Pingback: A remarkable, resourceful bunch « Safe & Sound blog

  4. Amy Cook says:

    Dear Jeff: I came to your blog via Beth Finke’s Safe and Sound blog and have lurked at both but never posted. I;m not completely blind, but merely legally blind through optic neuritis, due to a-typical MS. I tell people I have “low vision” and they seem to like that better than the B-word. Besides using my vision loss as an excuse to get out of housework, another benefit is that I get to judge everyone by their character and not their looks. So, to me you are indeed, handsome!

  5. Carl D. says:

    I’ve fallen on my face.
    That is no real disgrace.
    Yes, the B-word is numing.
    Everyone in my family,
    thinks blindness is coming.
    Yes, each other person
    in my family thinks
    they can catch my disease.
    So, is blindness a disease.
    or a condition?

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