Driver or Passenger
Several years ago, I was having dinner with two blind friends when the conversation turned to dreams. One person, we’ll call him Bob, mentioned that he had a recurrent dream in which he was always a passenger in the back seat of a car in which there was no one driving. The other friend, we’ll call him Bill, said that he thought that was interesting because, although he had never driven in his life, he had dreams in which he was always driving the car. People who analyze dreams tell us that whether the dreamer sees himself as a driver or a passenger can be an indication as to the amount of control the person feels they have in their own life. I don’t know how true this is of the general population, but it was very much the case of Bob and Bill; Bob really was very much a passenger in his own life while Bill is one of the most genuinely competent individuals I’ve ever known.
It occurs to me that driving is a simple, and yet powerful, metaphor for looking at our own lives. It is easy to become a passenger as a blind person. It’s tempting to let other people – parents, family, teachers – drive the decisions, big or little, in our life. It can be easier for parents and teachers to slip into the role of being the driver without ever realizing it. For example, it’s quicker and probably more efficient in the short run for mom to clean up after the child than to insist that they do it themselves; quicker but, not in the long run, beneficial. The child not only isn’t given the opportunity to learn a life skill like sighted peers but and, more insidious, they are learning to be a passenger.
Parents realize that their sighted child will make mistakes in learning to drive. They hope they won’t happen but know that, if they’re ever going to be able to drive on their own, they’re going to have to be allowed to fail. They know the child will make wrong turns, get lost, run out of gas, and, while you don’t want to think about it and hope it won’t happen, wreck the car. The only way to guarantee that none of these things will ever happen is to never give the child the opportunity to drive on their own.
Parents know that, sooner or later, the child is going to drive; the only question is how good a driver they’re going to be. This is not to say that they won’t need assistance when driving themselves. They will need driving directions, signs to tell them where they are and where they’re going, and, of course, GPS. For the blind child, a good education, strong work ethic, social skills, etc. are the things that will enable them to drive their own life. They’re not going to spend the rest of their life with a back-seat driver or, if they do, you can be certain that they won’t ever be very happy about it.