“As our second participant of today’s interview we are honored to welcome Andreas Heinecke,” the moderator announced. An elderly man around sixty walked on stage. He walked slowly and steadily towards his chair. Keeping his head down he sat on his chair while the moderator went on to introduce three more people. Andreas Heinecke, the name seemed distantly familiar and yet I didn’t recognize the person sitting up there almost vanishing between the other four people. Who was he and why had he been invited to speak about social entrepreneurship?
Have you ever been in the situation where you met the creator of an amazing service or product for the first time and didn’t realize who they are?
And were you even more amazed at the humanity and humility of this person? This is exactly what happened when I heard Andreas Heinecke talk about his project “Dialog im Dunkeln“. What was so impressive about this guy? It definitely wasn’t his appearance. If you met him on the street you would probably walk by without noticing him, I definitely would have. He dresses and looks just like an average guy of his age. He also says that he is “just” an average person, a person like you and me. What makes him stand out is his journey of rage. What? Yes, you read correctly: he is on a journey of rage. A journey that took him to an award for social entrepreneurship in 2011.
A journey that has nothing to do with violence and everything with passion.
Andreas Heinecke is one of the people who took his rage and turned it into ideas and a business. He is a person who lets his anger, frustration and rage fuel him, drive him to be the change he wants to see. What drives him? He wants people to see handicaps as strengths, as uniqueness, as something worthy of noticing. Where is the connection to the topic of being seen you might ask. Andreas Heinecke’s projects Dialog im Dunkeln and Dinner in the Dark are concepts that not only include blind people but make their blindness or “not seeing the physical world” a unique strength.
In our human world eyesight is one of the big things.
Especially with digital technologies permeating our world, the ability to see determines if and to which degree you can become part of this digital world and its communities. Even with voice recognition on the rise blind people are not the target group of software or hardware developers and they experience it every day. The most common approach used to integrate people with handicap is to give them tasks that they can handle even though they are handicapped. This approach shows how most people view, think about and handle this kind of situation. They see a handicapped person and believe them to be capable of less, less than a person without this handicap could accomplish. They have special needs and so it’s going to be a lot of extra work for less output. Or is it?
Have you ever gone down this road of thoughts? I definitely have. And yet I had been exposed to people with handicap again and again throughout my life. And never have I personally experienced that they were capable of less. On the contrary I have admired them for being more than capable of doing anything they wanted, being totally normal human beings in every aspect and handling their handicap with so much more ease than I would think myself capable of. Still the reality of handicapped people is often one of prejudices against them and a lot of them have a really hard time getting into the workplace. And even if they make it there, they often encounter a lot of physical and mental barriers all around them. Andreas Heinecke experienced this way of treating handicapped people while working with a blind colleague on his first job.
It made him angry, it made him furious and so he started on his journey of rage to create and be the change he wanted to see.
If you visit Dialog im Dunkeln you will be blind. You will experience first hand how it is to be blind, to see nothing at all, having to navigate with the help of a stick or sound, not seeing the person you are talking to, just hearing his or her voice. When you go to Dinner in the Dark you will even eat like a blind person. Eating without being able to see your food. The people working there are blind people. They know how to navigate this world. Andreas Heinecke didn’t create a working environment in which people didn’t have to deal with their weaknesses.
He created a working environment in which people draw on their strengths, in this specific case their experience of navigating or seeing in the dark.
Have you seen James Cameron’s movie Avatar? When I left the movie theater I took one sentence with me: “I see you.” Being used as a greeting by the Na’vi it is at the same time the theme, the core of the movie. Everything revolves around this one three word sentence. Who sees whom at which point of the movie and what experiences did it need for them to open their eyes to be able to see. Most of this seeing is a metaphorical process. The Na’vi have two words for seeing. The first one refers to the physical ability, the second one, also used in the greeting, is about an understanding of the other, a seeing on a very deep and even spiritual level.
In our language the difference isn’t as clear. Still we have it and we experience it in our every day life.
People looking without seeing,
People hearing without listening,
People talking without saying anything,
People eating without tasting,
People hating without knowing or understanding,
People existing without living,
Every time a person disconnects in one of these ways a wall of separation is created. Most of us can’t see those walls, but we all feel them. Every time we choose to see, we choose to connect. What is so important about being seen and understood? It gives us a feeling of acceptance, of safety. If I am seen and understood I am okay the way I am. I can be myself. This is so liberating. It’s freedom! I can stop hiding, pretending, wearing masks, conforming and acting.
I can just be me.
What is possible if you can be yourself? What is possible if you are appreciated for being yourself? We might not be labeled as handicapped, still we all have our weaknesses and strengths. What would a world look like in which you would be seen? What would a world look like in which we stopped handing people jobs in which their weaknesses aren’t that bad and instead offering them work in their area of strengths and expertise?
Would you be interested in co-create this new reality? Are you up to a mini-experiment? Then please say thank you to one person that really sees you and let one person know that you really see him/her and appreciate them! And maybe you enjoy it so much that you keep on doing it ;). Let’s be the change.
I see you =)