what a blind haircut taught me

We live in a world full of headlines and highlights. 

News, photos, feeds, all media we consume is sensationalized to break through our noisy world and into our attention. It has to be. Our attention spans have grown schizophrenic (they are, in fact, shorter than a goldfish’s). Our minds have grown weary from media overload. 

Each of us sees 3,000 unique brand impressions each day, and we consume information from 8 different applications, on average. It’s no wonder we’ve become numb to the ordinary and average things in life. Only the extraordinary messages break through out of necessity - our brains are forced to filter through what’s important and what’s not. 

The challenge, however, is not everything sensational is meaningful. Not everything that shocks us brings us life.

To find more meaning during our ordinary days, we need to strip away the stimulus. That’s the paradox of our 5 senses. If you strip away one, the others become more sensitive. 

The more we shut down the flow of information, the more we absorb.

Just like a deaf child visiting the barbershop.   

I peered past my Entrepreneur magazine and noticed a slender black pole sitting in the middle of the walkway. I was sitting on a leather cushioned seat waiting my turn at the barbershop.

Someone’s going to trip over that thing, I thought to myself. 

As I looked up to locate the source of the tripping hazard, I realized that the pole was actually designed to prevent someone from tripping. A child wearing black sunglasses and a crooked smile was gripping the pole's leather-bound handle. He looked wistfully toward the front of the shop as a small bell signaled that another patron had entered. 

“James?” A stylist called out.

James’ mother accompanied him to the overstuffed, old-fashioned barber’s chair and removed the stick from his hand. She conferred with the stylist for a moment, sharing that he liked his hair short on top, but not so short that he couldn’t run his fingers through it. He seemed to be 9, perhaps 10 years old. 

The stylist fired up her clippers and brought them near James’ ear to trim the sides. He winced, recoiling from the loud noise of the mechanical shears. His nose wrinkled and his brow furrowed as she navigated the clippers toward his neck. 

He must use sound to help interpret what’s friendly and what’s dangerous to him, I figured.

While I’ve never been blind, I imagine that if you’re walking along the sidewalk and you hear something very loud behind you, your instincts will tell you to jump far away from the road.

Or, if you had your sight but not your hearing, the equivalent would be someone swinging a baseball bat just inches from your eyes. Even if you knew what was going to happen, you wouldn't be able to help but flinch. 

I glanced over to his mom, who had picked up her book. I wanted to make sure I could be observant without being offensive by staring for too long. 

The stylist rotated James’ head to face forward. He was craning his neck toward new sounds as they popped up around the shop. He seemed quite curious to know what was happening around him, while I had no problem tuning out the shop’s white noise while reading.

After some time, the stylist leaned on the chair's silver lever to recline the back toward a sink.

James smiled the kind of wide, open-mouth smiles you see on rollercoasters as he was leaned backward to the sink basin. He laughed as he felt the pressurized water and sudsy hands running through his hair. 

Will I have that much fun getting my hair shampooed today? I didn't think so.

After a quick towel dry and comb, James stood up from the barber’s chair for his mom to admire his fresh cut. She beamed as she told him how nice he looked. He just smiled back.

I normally love going to the barbershop, but not this day.

I felt more frustrated than anything as I waited for my turn in the chair. My wait took longer than I had been told it would take. Which meant I’d have less time to finish the lighting project I was working on at home. Which meant I wouldn’t cook dinner until I was already hungry. Which meant I’d be a grouch to my wife (and so on).

These were all trivial concerns, but as I oscillated between email on my phone, ESPN on the TV, and my magazine to try to medicate my impatience, the more restless I grew.

As I watched James walk out of the barber shop, guided by his stick and mother, I decided to pocket my phone and set my magazine in its rack. I folded my arms and I sat back in my chair.

How fitting that someone who lost their sight helped me see again.

James helped me see the small joys in visiting the barbershop that day, and in the ordinary moments of my every day.