This article was first published several years ago, but contains an important and timely message for all of us.
We’ve all heard of Helen Keller, and how she overcame deafness and blindness to become one the most inspirational figures in American history.
Many of us will remember the dramatic scene in the movie of her life story when her teacher, Anne Sullivan, pumped water over one of Helen’s hands while spelling out the word for water on the other. The issue with the heroes in our society is that we tend to over-simplify and even whitewash their stories.
To most people, Helen Keller’s life is little more than the story one girl’s triumph over adversity.
The problem begins in school where, as children, we’re taught abridged versions of famous peoples’ lives. Ones in which controversy is ignored, and complexity is replaced with superficial myths that avoid raising awkward questions.
Growing up, we’re told how Henry Ford revolutionized the manufacturing process with his production lines, but not about his anti-Semitic views or his support for Adolf Hitler.
We hear all about Martin Luther King’s dream, but little about his criticism of American foreign policy, or how he described his own government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”.
And every school child learns that President Lincoln freed the slaves. What they’re not generally told, however, is that at the start of the Civil War, he showed astonishing disrespect for the Constitution by suspending habeas corpus and locking up thousands of his critics.
In our search for heroes, we have a tendency to place those we admire on a pedestal.
In doing so, the inconvenient truths get discarded. King is honored each year for his leadership of the civil rights movement. Lincoln is the “Great Emancipator”. Ford is simply a mighty industrialist.
Helen Keller’s story has suffered from the same fate as those of Ford, King and Lincoln. It has become one-dimensional.
Keller was born in Tuscumbia in Alabama in 1880. She is remembered for her heroism in overcoming the limitations imposed on her as a result of losing her hearing and sight, and for her charitable work on behalf of others like herself.
What’s conveniently forgotten is that she was an ass-kicking, rabble-rousing, leftie, whose support for the underdog caused her to be vilified and scorned by many of the most powerful politicians and business leaders of the day.
Helen Keller was a committed socialist, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, a supporter of women’s rights, and a pacifist. She campaigned on behalf of women’s rights, civil rights, legalized birth control, and trade unionism, and against child labor, World War I, and the death penalty. And she worked all her life to raise money for organizations devoted to helping the deaf and blind.
The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle was one of her most outspoken critics. Shocked that she had become a Socialist, he tried to pin the blame on her disabilities. “Helen Keller’s mistakes spring out of the manifest limitations of her development,” he wrote.
With typical humor and feistiness, Keller replied, “It is not fair-fighting or good argument to remind me and others that I cannot see or hear. I can read. I can read all the socialist books I have time for in English, German and French. If the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle should read some of them, he might be a wiser man and make a better newspaper.”
By questioning the status quo, she upset those who preferred the simplistic myth of the plucky child whose only claim to fame was to have conquered her physical challenges.
She wasn’t supposed to have strong opinions, especially ones that were considered so radical.
Most old souls know from bitter experience, gained over many incarnations, that war is quite simply wrong. In the build-up to World War I, Keller saw through the phony patriotism and jingoism that gripped the country.
“In spite of the historical proof of the futility of war,” she wrote, “The United States is preparing to raise a billion dollars and a million soldiers in preparation for war. Behind the active agitators for defense you will find J.P. Morgan & Co., and the capitalists who have invested their money in shrapnel plants, and others that turn out implements of murder. They want armaments because they beget war, for these capitalists want to develop new markets for their hideous traffic.”
As your soul ages, it develops a strong sense of justice, and is the reason older souls want to see a fairer world for others, and not just themselves.
Scratch the surface of any organization that works for social justice, and you’ll find older souls trying to create a better world. Yet, a person’s soul age goes only part of the way toward explaining his or her motivations.
Keller’s life plan contained many elements that were chosen to help her make the most of her time on this plane.
Her soul type was that of a Spiritualist/Leader. This strong combination can be seen in certain highly influential people (John Lennon and Nelson Mandela are good examples) who are destined to make a significant impact on the world. Her overarching purpose in her life was to help others.
Though this aspiration is found in most old-soul Spiritualist types, her mission of Healing, a mission that’s often both internal and external, was what gave her the impetus to work toward a better world.
Like many people who end up gaining wide recognition, Keller had desires for Fame and Immortality.
Anyone with a desire for Fame is likely to attract public attention during his or her lifetime. Many authors (Keller wrote a dozen books and many articles) have this desire as part of their life plan. A desire for Immortality is about achieving something in your life that will last beyond your time here.
Keller’s impact on others through her activism, fund-raising and writing is evidence of her success in fulfilling this desire.
Past-life experiences affect all of us in some way. For Keller, it was her past-life fear of Authority that allowed her to see those who were part of the military/industrial/political complex as they really were, rather than the patriotic defenders of liberty they made themselves out to be.
This fear stems from a life where one has been abused by authority, and gives older souls a natural skepticism toward people in positions of power. For experienced old souls who have many incarnations behind them, respect for authority has to be earned.
Resonances from the past associated with authority also create a powerful stimulus for supporting victims of injustice.
Having an investigation of Disability gave Keller a compelling need to empower herself. In doing so, she was following her soul’s guidance, and avoiding the Physical Plane trap of self-pity, an emotion that leads to disempowerment.
Helen Keller was a truly remarkable human being. Despite ruffling the feathers of the rich and powerful, she was admired by millions.
She was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and enjoyed the friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His respect for her was such that he once stated, “Anything Helen Keller is for, I am for.”
One children’s biography tells the story of Keller’s life without making any mention of her efforts to achieve social justice
It offers this typically vacuous account of the last 60 or more years of her life: “While she was in college she wrote her book called “The Story of My Life”. With the money she earned from the book she was able to buy a house. She became famous and traveled around the world speaking to groups of people. She met many important and well-known people as she traveled.”
How much more insight might children gain into the person Helen Keller really was if that biography had mentioned something about her work with blind veterans, her pacifism, or her efforts to end the use of child labor?
Imagine if it had included the following touching story: When Keller first wrote to then governor Franklin D. Roosevelt asking him to join her foundation, he forgot to sign his reply. In a hand-lettered request she asked him, “Please, dear Mr. Roosevelt, sign your full name. Something tells me you are going to be the next president of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and this seems a good time to get your autograph.”