The Wisdom of Helen Keller
It was only while compiling this article that I realised that a great many of my favourite quotes originated with remarkable deaf/blind Helen Keller, although subsequently used by, or attributed to, others.
On seeing and inner sight
"Of all the senses, sight must be the most delightful."
"I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world."
"I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers."
"Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see."
"The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision."
On life and developing character
"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."
"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood."
"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming."
"Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others."
"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."
"It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal."
"Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world."
The collective power of small actions
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."
"The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker."
"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained."
"My share of the work may be limited, but the fact that it is work makes it precious."
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."
On joy and pain
"Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."
"I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace."
"Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged."
"Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties."
"The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse."
"We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world."
About Helen Keller
Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Alabama to a father who had served as a brigadier-general in the Confederate army during the American Civil War. Helen was born able to hear and see, but a serious illness when she was 19 months old left her both deaf and blind. She developed signs to communicate with her family and the daughter of the family cook.
When she was 6 years old her mother sent her to an ear, nose and throat specialist who ultimately put her in touch with a former pupil of the Institute for the Blind in Boston, Anne Sullivan. Although only 20 years old herself and partially sighted, Anne was to become first a tutor to Helen and then a lifelong companion until Anne's death.
Anne's breakthrough came when Helen finally realised that the signing she had repeatedly been doing into Helen's hands were the names of objects, after which Helen became a voracious student. Anne later moved with Helen to a school for the deaf and Helen was later admitted to Radcliffe College, Massachusetts where a benefactor (through the auspices of her friend and admirer, Mark Twain) paid for her education. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree at the age of 24, the first deaf/blind person to achieve such academic distinction.
Helen went on to become a prolific author, world-famous speaker and activist campaigning for the socialist party, women's suffrage, workers' and disabled rights, pacifism, contraception and fund raising for the American Foundation for the Blind. She co-founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organisation devoted to research into visual problems and became a friend of many prominent people, met many U.S. presidents and was particularly popular in Japan. She died at home at 88 years of age after suffering a series of strokes.
She received many honours both during her life and posthumously including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian honours in the US; was minted on the Alabama coinage and listed in Gallup's Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. There are hospitals, schools and streets named after her around the world and her statue is in the US National Statuary Hall Collection - the only disabled person so honoured.