This story has a back story. In the last Jalapenos blog, called “Learning the Hard Way,” I cited Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell says that compensation learning, that is, learning despite a difficulty, is more powerful than learning which comes easily. Compensation learning requires people to use more resources, process more deeply and think more carefully to solve a problem. “The Payoff” is my attempt to connect practical benefits of compensation learning with intrinsic qualities like acceptance and purpose.
To illustrate learning difficulties, Gladwell chose people with dyslexia. Contrary to assumption, dyslexics do not perceive the word cat as being spelled t a c. Rather, for dyslexics, somewhere along the process of see it, recognize it, attach a name to it and say it, the links between the four steps break down. For people with vision loss, the breakdown in the process occurs at step one. People with dyslexia or low vision utilize compensation learning to attempt to bring clarity out of confusion.
Compensation learning is really hard. It is not fun, but it has a huge payoff. First, I have to make the choice to interact with the world, to engage and risk, rather than withdraw and isolate. The process requires me to confront my limitations. It requires that I overcome my insecurities. It requires that I focus hard enough to memorize and then have the panache to take my act to center stage. If I can pull all this off, I gain release from the tyranny of an ego that says anything short of perfection is shameful. I feel less burdened, self-conscious, self-pitying and hyper-vigilant. Gladwell quotes one dyslexic: “My upbringing allowed me to become comfortable with failure…[I] look at most situations and see much more of the upside than the downside because I’m accustomed to the downside. It doesn’t faze me.”
During long spells in the downside, I have tried many tactics at coping with vision loss. Most have been tainted by the nagging suspicion that all I was doing was trying to think my way into feeling OK. Thinking I’m OK doesn’t make me feel OK. Trying to convince myself rings as hollow as a rationalization. Inventing reasons to accept the unacceptable is like putting lipstick on a pig.
What appeals to me about Gladwell’s model is that I can name and claim benefits I was unaware I was accruing. I can operationalize that, because vision loss has led to compensation learning, I have increased my skills in listening, memory and conceptualizing. I feel less fear of failure. I feel I am getting the hang of living life on life’s terms, that I may even be sneaking toward humility, gratitude and happiness.
[Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013 (Hachette Audio through NLS, DB 77646, read by the author), especially Chapter 4]