To Have Sight and No Vision

Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts taken July 1888. Photo source: New England Historic Genealogical Society

“She’s wild. She bites and scratches and throws her food.  She gets up at all hours of the night. Where has our daughter gone?!”

There was a young girl born with great potential. She was healthy, pleasant, and had supportive parents. Then, as a toddler she contracted a high fever that left her blind and deaf. The young girl awoke to a silent and dark world, and became unmanageable and aggressive. That is, until a young woman entered her life, a woman who perceived that Helen Keller still had great potential. Anne Sullivan opened Helen’s eyes to happiness and growth through learning. She taught Helen’s parents the skills to serve and support their dear daughter.

Helen Keller earned multiple degrees, could communicate in several languages, was an author, and met with world leaders. Late in her life, she would explain, “The only thing worse than being blind is to have sight and no vision.” What if Anne Sullivan had not had optimism, the faith and confidence that Helen was capable of a full, wonderful life? Having sight but no vision, or living in a world of negativity, cripples the progress of the human soul. And mothering is all about souls. Below is wisdom, inspired by Helen Keller, debunking common myths that hold mothers back from embracing the power of optimism.

Mother Myth #1: Optimism isn’t facing reality.

Truth: Optimism helps us see clearly the truths about ourselves, our families and our situations. Sometimes I hear, “Well, you have to face the stark realities of the situation.” This statement assumes that optimism and being realistic are mutually exclusive. Not so! Being realistic and full of hope actually opens the path to move ahead through trials. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it,” said Helen. Optimism is not to ignore the facts of a situation, but to assess these facts and move forward with courage and faith. She also commented, “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.”

Mother Myth #2: Optimism is naive.

Truth: Optimism is a choice to have faith in your family members. Pregnancy, mothering, and grandmothering are the essence of optimism! It’s the faith that the little person you see (or the great big teenager) possesses great potential. We choose to believe they have immense worth and possibility, and that we as mothers have special gifts to give that child. Optimism is bravery, not hiding our heads in the sand. Helen put it this way: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Mother Myth #3: Optimism isn’t in vogue.

Truth: Families everywhere sense deep down that caring, patience, and forgiveness grow the soul. We aren’t trying to turn our homes into news outlets or humor programs. While is it popular in the media to be sarcastic and tear down others for sport, the goals in our homes are totally different from Saturday Night Live. We’re here to build up the souls of our family members. Helen offered this profound truth: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”

Mother Myth #4: Motherhood is a negative thing.

Truth: Mothering is deeply rewarding and very challenging. When we choose it deliberately, motherhood fills our souls with purpose. Maybe motherhood isn’t a selfish thing, a money-making thing, or a sophisticated showy thing, but it’s the most important thing we’ll do throughout our lives. Not only are we shaping the lives of our precious children, but our own souls are being refined in the process. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it–we can do hard things! Helen’s insight: “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.”

Mother Myth #5: Negativity can be good for moms.

Truth: Long-term negativity erodes the soul. “As selfishness and complaint pervert the mind, so love with its joy clears and sharpens the vision,” said Helen. Negativity causes sadness, is paralyzing, ages us, and repels people (including our children). In contrast, optimism leads to gratitude, the key to peace. Optimism is contagious. People are drawn towards the confidence and hope of optimism–it’s powerful and needed! When was the last time you sat among other women, complaining about your children or husband, and came away feeling better for it? There’s talking about our feelings and then there’s chronic negativity: one leads to the power of moms, and the other leads to the powerlessness of moms! Choose optimism!

One woman opened the world of a child–a person very much like a mom. Listen to Helen tell of Anne Sullivan: “Once I knew only darkness and stillness…. My life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.” It did not start our easily for Anne–there was no instruction manual, no precedence for Helen–and yet using her talents and love, they both met their potential.

Do you sense that this is you as well?

Quotes from and Helen Keller’s book is The Story of My Life.

QUESTION: Who inspires you to be optimistic? What have you learned from this person’s example?

CHALLENGE: If you find yourself discounting the value of optimism, make a point to stay optimistic for an extended period of time. Then, evaluate if an optimistic attitude improved your relationship with your family. (We’re sure it will!)


  1. Amy Oliver says

    Thanks Dawn! I appreciate your effort in clarifying the “myths” and the “truths” As a reformed (or more honestly ‘reforming’) pessimist, understanding what true, authentic optimism is has been key to making it a part of my character!

  2. Camille says

    Thank you for this. I have an autistic son and just received some news from his school that has left me feeling disappointed and powerless. Reading this was very well-timed, to give me a boost and a sense of SOMETHING I can do to improve the situation. I have been feeling, as Anne, that I have “no instruction manual, no precedence…and yet using [my] talents and love, [we both can meet our] potential.” Just beautiful. Thank you for the much needed dose of hope and OPTIMISM!

  3. says

    You bet, Camille. Her story and her heart is amazing- maybe the hero I left out here is Anne Sullivan. I wonder if some of Anne’s mission isn’t similar to our own struggles with little ones.

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