Head of Junior School, Bev van Niekerk Reflects on 2020

2020 was set to be the year of vision.

When one speaks of 20/20 vision, you assume that this means perfect or extraordinary vision, but in fact 20/20 vision actually refers to normal sight. 

20/20 vision is referred to as a standard, or how the average person sees.  This means that when you stand twenty feet away from an eye chart, you see what most people are expected to see.  

We may have entered 2020 expecting it to be a year of standard or average prospect, where the regular rules applied and where we would see what most people expected to see. However, what we soon came to realize, is that sight does not define vision.

Vision is defined as the art of seeing what is invisible to others.  A vision is not just a picture of what could be, it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to be something more, a need or a desire to step up in the face of adversity and to redefine our path.

As challenging as 2020 has been, it has proved to be the perfect opportunity for each one of us to set aside our normal sight, and to answer the call of true and perfect vision.  

Helen Keller was born on the 27th of June in the year 1880, in Alabama. She was an American author, political activist, lecturer and the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She once said, ‘The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.’  Keller was born a healthy child, but at the age of nineteen months, she became deaf and blind. As she progressed through childhood, Helen and her friend, Martha Washington, invented a limited sign language in order to communicate with each other.  You see, the vision to connect far outweighed the loss of sight.

Helen’s life changed when Anne Sullivan agreed to be her teacher. Against bitter odds, these two women had a vision. The vision did not include normal sight, it extended far beyond that and it spoke to the sentiments of the great educationalist, Aristotle, who said, ‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.’

Helen Keller provided inspiration by being a powerful example of how determination and hard work can allow anyone to overcome life’s most challenging obstacles, and how vision is stronger than sight. At every opportunity she highlighted the importance of relationships and would often tell her students that walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.  She would regularly remind her students that character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experiences of trial and tribulation, can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

The story of Helen Keller is an apt reminder of the road we have walked this year.  While there have been many moments of trials, tribulations and darkness, there have also been incredible opportunities of light and vision.  As a community we have embraced new learning, redirected our thoughts, reached out to each other in moments of need, and created new prospects by applying renewed vision.

We can take further lessons from another extraordinary women in history, Marie Curie, the polish-born French scientist, famous for her work on radiation, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only woman to win this award in two different fields.  When asked why she was not afraid to do the work she was doing, she replied, Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.  Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.’ 

In taking time to understand this year, we have had to remove our rose-tinted glasses and come to realize some very simple truths.

The world we live in is interconnected, we are not alone, and our actions have the power to offset a number of unexpected reactions. 

Our strategic school vision, of embracing local and global communities, has proved to be both relevant and necessary in a time of global crisis.  We have had to look beyond the walls of St Andrew’s to see how we could assist others in their time of turmoil, and our girls did so in a variety of ways that left us both inspired and incredibly proud.       

Humans are social creatures, and we need social interaction and human contact.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of social interaction and human contact within almost every aspect of our lives, including education, employment, entertainment and recreation.

2020 has provided us with an opportunity to remove our sunglasses and to see a different perspective.  We have realised that we cannot live in a world without human connection.  While a Zoom meeting, or an online class, may suffice under necessary circumstances, they will never replace the gift of human touch and face-to-face social interaction.  

When darkness sets in, do not be afraid to light your inner candle or reset your vision.  

2020 has altered the course of our life journey, it has offered new insight and allowed us to reconnect with the things that really matter in life.  By seeking to understand more, we have become less fearful of what lies ahead.  It is easy to become fearful when we use sight, but when we apply vision, we become brave. 

Ayn Rand, reminds us, ‘Throughout the centuries there have been men and women, who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common:  the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed.’

2020 created the opportunity for new vision, for a road untravelled and for us to be brave enough to take the first step into a year we did not plan for, but embraced nonetheless.

As we battled through the initial passage of darkness, we soon realised that in order to create light, we had to let go of the perception of 20/20 sight and embrace a stronger and more resilient vision, because our normal sight, or outlook on life, would have rendered us helpless in a year unparalleled to any other.

Operating by sight can cause you to see the problems and challenges around you, instead of finding the solutions that exist within you.  While sight may give direction, vision creates hope. 

As we leave this year behind and prepare for 2021, may we carry these five truths about sight versus vision forward with us.

  • Sight is a function of the eyes, while vision is a function of the heart and faith.
  • Sight is the ability to see things as they are, while vision is the ability to see things as they could, or should, be.
  • Sight is confined to your current environment, while vision sees beyond your ‘now’ to your future possibilities.
  • Sight is based upon what your eyes determine to be true, while vision challenges perceived truth and focuses on purpose and possibility.
  • Sight is fuelled by an idea that will bring temporary satisfaction, while vision is fuelled by an idea that is so powerful, it can be life-altering and long-lasting.

2020 was set to be a year of vision and indeed it has been.  We have questioned all that we deemed normal.  We have realised that 20/20 sight does not equate to 20/20 vision.

My prayer for our community, as we close the chapter on a year that has been unique in its teaching, yet life-altering in its significance, is that we reconsider the difference between vision and sight, and that we acknowledge that just because we are seeing something, does not mean that we truly understand or appreciate it.

There have been many lessons on offer in 2020. May we have the grace to learn from them, and take them into whatever lies beyond this year, so that we can be bold enough to turn our sight into vision, and our vision into reality.

I give thanks for the lessons of 2020, the year of plenty!

Martin Luther King said, ‘Music makes people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable.’