The Eclipse of 1919

In 1919, Albert Einstein's three year old general theory of relativity described how gravity could bend light. One of the theory's practical applications was that the position of the stars would seem to shift when they were close to the sun in the sky because of its gravitational pull. In normal circumstances, observing stars close to the sun is impossible. But the darkness created in the afternoon of the 1919 solar eclipse let astronomers check the apparent position of stars near the sun against earlier measurements they had made in the night sky. The examination during the eclipse proved that the stars' position had slightly moved just as Einstein's theory had explained they should.

In 1919, the usually illuminating light from the sun had, in this case of scientific research, created a blind spot. Once the sun's light was blocked by the moon shadow, the theory could be tested and proven. I'm convinced everyone has a personal blind spot. It may be apparent to others who clearly see our compulsions or tendencies, our misperceptions of reality. But for us, it creates a distorted view of our own influence or knowledge, our judgment or even our appearance. Perhaps it's a preconceived notion of another person, race, religion or country. Maybe it's merely the questions we don't ask. It can even be the natural side effect of a strength.

Perhaps the most famous example of the strength/blind spot was Steve Jobs who was brilliant and creative but whose drive for perfection created some management blind spots. It wasn't until he was fired as CEO of Apple and forced to examine his failures that he was able to see himself clearer for the first time. When he returned to Apple, he had a better understanding of Steve Jobs and became a better manager. The company and the world benefited from his creativity far more after that blind spot realization and his second chance.

If a blind spot is really a blind spot, how can we know what we can't see? Experience tells me there are several ways to learn this truth. I can think of at least three, some good. First, there's the way I've chosen which is to make some horrible mistakes. I don't recommend this method, and it can lead to extended involuntary vacations at not too scenic venues like Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. But it can be effective, if survivable.

A better way to recognize a blind spot is to develop a relationship with another person who cares enough to lovingly point it out. This requires honesty and vulnerability. Obviously, we need to be careful about the feedback we let into our lives. To quote Brené Brown, "For me, if you're not in the arena getting your assed kicked too, I'm not interested in your feedback."

Another positive way of blind spot identification is through the practice of meditation. When we take time to regularly slow ourselves down enough to experience an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment, we have a better chance of accepting it all without judgment, without rehashing the past or imagining the future. When we do that enough over time, our blind spots can slowly become apparent.

For those who don't have a blind spot, keep looking and wait for an eclipse. It's worth the effort because even the good we try to achieve will be inadvertently impacted by what we don't understand about ourselves. As the poet Mizuta Mashide wrote, "Barn's burnt down/now/I can see the moon."

© 2016 by Charles D. Jones