Thursday, May 24, 2007

Helen Keller: Enduring Icon of Leadership

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." – Helen Keller

In an age where respect, appreciation and sensitivity must be expressed toward those who are not considered the poster children of American perfectionism, Helen Keller stands as an enduring icon of leadership who overcame the challenges of being both blind and mute. Her courage and perseverance teaches us that we do not have to be perfect to be fully human or to attain extraordinary achievement.

[Reprinted from The Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century –

Helen Keller
She altered our perception of the disabled and remapped the boundaries of sight and sense


Helen Keller was less than two years old when she came down with a fever. It struck dramatically and left her unconscious. The fever went just as suddenly. But she was blinded and, very soon after, deaf. As she grew up, she managed to learn to do tiny errands, but she also realized that she was missing something. "Sometimes," she later wrote, "I stood between two persons who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result. This made me so angry at times that I kicked and screamed until I was exhausted." She was a wild child.

As miraculous as learning language may seem, that achievement of Keller's belongs to the 19th century. It was also a co-production with her patient and persevering teacher, Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller's greater achievement came after Sullivan, her companion and protector, died in 1936. Keller would live 32 more years and in that time would prove that the disabled can be independent. I hate the word handicapped. Keller would too. We are people with inconveniences. We're not charity cases. She was once asked how disabled veterans of World War II should be treated and said that they do "not want to be treated as heroes. They want to be able to live naturally and to be treated as human beings."

Those people whose only experience of her is "The Miracle Worker" will be surprised to discover her many dimensions. "My work for the blind," she wrote, "has never occupied a center in my personality. My sympathies are with all who struggle for justice." She was a tireless activist for racial and sexual equality. She once said, "I think God made woman foolish so that she might be a suitable companion to man." She had such left-leaning opinions that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on her. And who were her choices for the most important people of the century? Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin and Lenin. Furthermore, she did not think appearing on the vaudeville circuit, showing off her skills, was beneath her, even as her friends were shocked that she would venture onto the vulgar stage. She was complex. Her main message was and is, "We're like everybody else. We're here to be able to live a life as full as any sighted person's. And it's O.K. to be ourselves."


Helen Keller Services for the Blind Click here to visit site
The Time 100
The Most Important People of the Century
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