Helen Keller’s Guide to Courageously Looking the World Straight in the Eye

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

“What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.”

Deaf. Blind.

Helen Keller didn’t start out back in the 1880’s with the cards stacked in her favor. But with the help of patient people she learned to communicate better with the world and went on to write books, work for women’s right to vote and became on of the most inspiring people of the 20:th Century according to Time Magazine.

Keller obviously summoned and created a great deal of courage and character to be able to do all that she did. Here are a few of her brave, tough, reality expanding thoughts.

Use your experiences to build character.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

To get real results you have to try things out, perhaps fail and then learn from those failures and try again. And that may not always be pleasant. Even if you view failures and mistakes like learning experiences they can still sting, especially shortly after they happened.

But you can also know that when it stings you have at least done something and that you can gather lessons from this. Instead of a feeling safe but also vaguely feeling that you’re not living up to your potential as you sit on your hands doing or trying nothing. As Keller says, you cannot develop character and success through quiet and ease. You must do things and go through things to become stronger and wiser.

Don’t cling to your illusion of safety.

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

You cannot sit on your hands and take it easy and hope to get things done. At least not the things you really want to get done (which often may be the things you fear doing).

Why do people sit on their hands and get comfortable in their ease and quiet though? Well, one big reason is because they think they are safe there. But the truth is what Keller says; safety is mostly a superstition. It is created in your mind to make you feel safe. But there is no safety out there really. It is all uncertain and unknown.

You may get layed off.
Someone may break up with you and leave.
Illness will probably strike.
Death will certainly strike in your surroundings and at some point come to visit you too.
Who knows what will happen an hour from now?

This superstition of safety is not just something negative. It’s also created by your mind so you can function in life. No point in going all paranoid about what could happen a minute from now day in and day out. But there is also not that much point in clinging to an illusion of safety. So you need to find balance where you don’t obsessed by the uncertainty but also recognize that it is there and live accordingly.

So you stop clinging to your safety life also becomes a whole lot more exciting and interesting. You are no longer as confined by an illusion and realize that you set your limits for what you can do and to a large extent create your own freedom in the world. You are no longer building walls to keep yourself safe as those walls wouldn’t protect you anyway. You can instead start your own daring adventure. Perhaps slowly at first, but still.

Face reality head on.

“People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.”

How to view reality is a tricky thing. On one hand, it’s very useful to keep a positive attitude and view your world through that.

But you also have to avoid using positivity as a way to repress real problems in your life. Repressing won’t help you. It will just keep the problem away as time passes and oftentimes deepens and complicates the problem / conflict.

So you have to face reality for what it is in a way too. And as you probe deeper into your life and your surroundings what you come up with will not always be pleasant. One example would be the previous point in this article about safety.

But to grow I think you have to arrive at these conclusions too. Because as tip # 1 in this article says, you have to go through things to develop character, strength and success. I also think you need to arrive at the unpleasant conclusions to gain a deeper understanding.

And although these conclusions may be unpleasant at first they may also be a gateways and turning points for you. They can over time provide some real leaps of growth for you. If you face them and explore them and start to draw understanding and lessons from them. And then start to rewrite your map of the world.

You choose how you treat yourself. And how you want to be treated.

“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”

“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”

One of the age old words of wisdoms I have heard repeated over and over basically says that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. So even though it may sound counterintuitive, deep inside you do to a large extent decide how the world treats you.

You decide if you let an insult hurt you or if you just reject that gift. You also decide how you want to be treated by the way you behave and how you feel about yourself within. How you feel about yourself and how you feel entitled to/expect to be treated by other people will come through perhaps not in your words but in the important non-verbal communication. Your body language and voice tonality – a big, big part of communication – will give people signals and feelings about how you feel about yourself and what you expect and feel entitled to.

So you do to a large extent create other people’s responses to you. And that starts with how you feel about yourself. One awesome way to self-sabotage here is to fall into self-pity and victim thinking. It can paralyze you and get your thoughts spinning in all kinds of unproductive and unhelpful ways. Sometimes for a very long time.

Sure, self pity and victim thinking gets you attention from others and can make you feel special. But if you look at things from a larger perspective you also realize how it paralyzes your life. When you’re stuck in self-pity you won’t get much good done, neither for you or anyone else. At least not in the way that you could be doing things and feeling good about life if you gave up those destructive thought patterns.

One last and important thing on this topic: people around you will reinforce how you feel about yourself by treating you as they think is appropriate. That reinforces your self-image. This social feedback can be a powerful force that strengthens your and other people’s image of you. No matter if that image is one filled with victim thinking or if it’s one with high self-confidence and positivity.

Impossible is nothing.

“While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.”

Yeah, the sub-heading for this section might sound a like an exaggeration. But Keller and the people around her really pulled something amazing off. Becoming such an inspirational figure from such a bad starting point at that point in history couldn’t have been easy at all. It was probably something no one expected.

And isn’t life and history full of those things? People standing in groups of various kinds saying that things can’t be done. And then someone goes for it and does it anyway.

The opinions of others can be helpful. But to take them as fact could be very limiting. Perhaps all of them don’t say things because they know much of those things but because they are stuck in a pessimistic perspective. Or want to cling to the safety they have created within.

Keep on keeping on.

“We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough.”

Now, doing amazing things will probably not happen over a weekend. One big reason that people don’t get what they want may just be that they give up too soon. Perhaps because of a magic pill mentality where their expectations about success are stuck within a too small time-frame.

To get the results you have stick with it. You have to persist. Not all people do. So the longer you persist the thinner the playing field can become. But how can you persist?

Three suggestions:

  • Find what you really, really want to do. This will give you the sustained inner motivation to keep going.
  • List the reasons why to keep going. It’s easy to forget about all the good things that can come out of keeping on going. So you need to remind yourself. Write down all the reasons why you are doing what you are doing and review that piece of paper regularly.
  • Shape your own little world. Choose what you let into your mind. Choose the books, music, movies and people that will inspire and support you. Minimize the negative influences from media, various websites and naysayers. Don’t let other people and influences pull you down and back to where you started.

Be open and flexible.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

This is one of my favorite quotes. How often do we not miss the window of opportunity in a new situation just because we are still angry, sad or frustrated about that other door that just closed?

To me this is another powerful reason to remind myself to stay in the present. To not get stuck and hung up on missed opportunities. When you are living in the present – which is a way to live on the positive and open part of the emotional scale too – and not stuck in the past I have found that it’s a lot easier to find the hidden opportunities in any situation.

So whenever you see a door of happiness closing, take your eyes off it at least pretty shortly after. And instead of letting your awareness linger on what is in the past, use your time and focus to find the new opportunity to continue your daring adventure.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” is by far my favorite quote from Helen.

    The only real truth to life is that nothing lasts or stays the same, so get on with living and stop being so afraid.

    Or as they say in the Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living…or get busy dying”

  • Hi Henrik,

    Thanks for the post. I am a personal development blogger and just wanted to reach out and let you know I really like your content.

    I totally agree that we have to get out of our comfort zones everyday to grow. I sell Marketing door to door and I go through so much rejection however I have learnt how not to take it personally. After I started reading about Buddhism I have trained my mind and emotions to deal with rejections.

    Have you read the book called “The Art of Happiness”?It is an amazing book you will like it.

    Keep in touch. Happy Thanksgiving.


  • Thank you for your thoughts Henrik.

    As I look at the life of Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, and see how she transcended far beyond her disabilities to a point where she interacted with presidents, travelled the world as an ambassador for her nation, learnt numerous languages and even learnt how to speak before thousands of people, I am reminded of what she said when she was asked, ‘Are you happy?’

    Her response, ‘Yes, because I have confidence in God.’

  • That is great saying safety is a superstitious all of us try to clinch to, when it is actually an illusion. That will allow people to be more open to take action without worrying of what might happen.

  • What fabulous quotes you’ve found! I loved the one about being open and flexible – I have found myself staring at my past doors of happiness, rather than seeing the new doors that are in front of me. Wonderful quote to think about over this holiday weekend.

    Congratulations on the new book coming out!

  • This is a great post. Helen Keller is so very inspiring. When I was a teenager I saw a movie about her life and often think what a strong character she was and what she made of her life. She could have said: Keep on keeping on.