As a kid I have read a few stories that have stayed in my mind and thoughts for years now. This post is about one of such stories that I read in my English text-book - “The Country of the Blind”. I don’t remember the exact class I read it in, but even during those days, it made me think about evolution and as a society, how hard it is to accept something which is different from our own established notion of correctness. This is how I remember the story:

In a valley near Ecuador, a small tribe of people is cut-off from rest of the world by an earthquake which has blocked the only passage from outside world to the valley. This isolated tribe, though prosperous and self-sufficient, suffers an epidemic and everybody looses their vision. Children also start to take birth blind. Over time society adapts itself to life without sight; concept of sight and vision is lost.

After a few centuries, one of the mountaineers from outside world gets lost and slips into this part of the world. Mountaineer, among other things, notices that people of this tribe prefer sleeping during the day when it is hot and work in night when it is cool. Their idea of beauty is also not conventional for they consider people with rough skin as more beautiful. This surprises him, and remembering the proverb ‘in the country of blind, the one-eye man is king’, he starts seeing the opportunity to rule the tribe. He tries explaining the concept of sight to everyone but fails. In fact, whole tribe starts thinking of his obsession with sight as a disease. To make him ‘normal’, tribe doctors propose an operation to remove his faulty eyes. Having fallen in love with a girl, and wanting to marry her, he reluctantly agrees. However at the sunrise before the operation, when whole tribe is asleep, he leaves to escape the valley.

This story is brilliant. When I first read it, it took me some time to accept the fact that people with no concept of sight and vision will find person with ability to see as abnormal. It opened my mind to the thought that, at times, an idea or perspective, however counter-intuitive it may seem to you and to whole of your little society, can actually be right and valid for other societies. Similarly, many old traditions may seem irrelevant now, but probably in the past they all made sense.

I believe we all need to be a bit more considerate about others’ ideas and traditions. We need to try not to look at the world as black and white, but with some shades of grey. Does God exist or is there any answer for which religion is the best? Or is capitalism better than socialism? Or is it morally obligatory to be a vegetarian? Is my country better than yours? Or is static typing better than dynamic typing or vi better than emacs? Though one certainly has the right to have one’s own opinions, but does fighting over them make sense? Fundamentalism of any kind is bad.

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

  • Kristin Armstrong

At times, we fail to empathize with each other, because we fail to understand each other’s viewpoint. As we move forward, one of the most important requirements to be a world citizen would be to develop empathy and an open mind. Develop and grow.