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Insight Out

Seeing beyond what is visible

ASS out of U and ME

By Mei Lan

Last week I transformed one of my big stumbling blocks.
It happened while sitting on a train. And it didn’t even hurt or cost me energy.

The train back home had a 10, then 20 and later 35 minutes delay.
Together with me there was only one other person in the cabine. The announcements were vague and I had to smile out of irony and sighed because there was nothing to do but read some more pages in my brail book.
The other person sitting across from me was acting a bit nervously, I heard some shuffling around and sighing, but that was it.
I wanted to smile friendly or make eye contact, but being blind that isn’t the easiest thing to do. I get a bit shy when interacting with people who might not know I’m blind. I make all kinds of assumptions about how I should act and what they might think.
I silenced the voice in my head and just went on with sitting on a delayed train, scrolling on my phone and eventually getting my braille book out and read a bit.

At a certain point another person walks into the train.
The nervous shuffling person across from me, stands up and asks the person in English:
“Can you tell me what they have announced, as it was only in Dutch. Do we have a delay?”
They have a short conversation where the new comer in our train translates and gives some information to the shuffling man.
I add some details I remembered and we all sit down.

And here does my mind go:
“Why didn’t he just ask me? I was sitting there all the time. Did he maybe notice I am blind? And is he one of those people who think a blind person is not a capable adult?”
I used to have these thoughts so often when I was commuting daily to Brussels for work. Tourists never asked me for directions. They would always ask the person right next to me. If that one didn’t know the answer and I would give them the direction, I always wondered if they looked at my white cane and would think “does she really know her way around without seeing?”
I feel often unseen and undervalued in those situations.
But, while I was sitting on this delayed rain with the shuffling nervous man, I wondered: Why would he not have asked me? What if there is a totally different reason? What was he thinking? How did the conversation in his head go?
Even if it was “She is blind, so she is not capable so I can’t ask her” wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation to have.
Could this be my chance to create awareness and tell him how super capable I am? 😉

I opened my mouth 5 times without daring to actually speak.
One moment I said very quietly:
“Can I ask you something?”
but right at that moment the train took a turn and made so much noise, I even doubted wether I actually spoke out loud or just thought the words in my head.

When the last announcement came telling us (in Dutch) that we had another 5 minutes extra delay, my chance came.
I gazed towards his direction and clearly translated the announcement.
He said “oh thank you, okay”
And then I said:
“Can I ask you another, maybe awkward question?”
“Oh sure”, he said “no such thing as awkward questions”
A friendly Australian accent. I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Why didn’t you ask me for translation in the first place?”
I had to bite my tongue to not go into explanations and apologies. The aim of this was for me to hear what his real reasoning was, although it might have been uncomfortable for him.

“Well, I actually waved at you and said “excuse me” but you didn’t react.”

woops! Didn’t see that one coming! 🙂

“Oh, oops, Yeah, I’m blind.”
“Yes, that is what I figured out, but I didn’t pick up on it immediately, until you took out the braille book.”

We laugh.

I tell him that I’m so glad to hear this and that I asked him. I tell about the assumption I so often made about people not thinking they can aks me something, because I’m blind.

“Oh no, that’s not me” he says.

“So what were you thinking when I ignored you?” I ask him
“Oh well, I thought you were maybe not up for a conversation. Or maybe you just didn’t want to talk to a stranger.”
I am surprised.
“Do people do that, just ignore you? Is that a thing that is kind of acceptable?”
I didn’t add ‘amongst you sighted people” but I did think it in my mind. 🙂
“Oh yes, often. You know, I have a dark skin, so people often turn their head.”
he says.

“So did you think I was just a racist?” I ask with a wink.
“Well, yeah, kind of maybe.” he admits.
“Wow, no, that’s not me.” I paraphrase him.
and I add: “I am happy I got that assumption out of the way as well.”

We laugh at the absurdity of both our mind games and have another fun chat about life and Belgium and Australia.

In the end he shares this saying with me
“When you assume you make an ass out of U and me”

Next time I’m feeling undervalued because of someone not asking me something or any assumption that my mind comes up with, I will remember this.
It is such a simple rule to apply to life: never assume, transform it into a question and ask it the one you need to hear the answer from.

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