L’espirit d’escalier


The spirt of the stairs, or staircase wit.  This is the phrase attributed to the French philosopher Denis Diderot who wrote in 1773:  “l‘homme sensible comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier”, can be loosely translated to mean “a sensitive man such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, can only think clearly again at the bottom of the stairs”.

l'espirit d'escalier

It’s interesting that the French word “sensible” translates as sensitive since, in this context, one loses sense-ability under situations of intensity or stress, only to have one’s mind clear after the fact when retorts come in the form of things I might have said.

This is part of what Amy Cuddy relates in explaining the meaning of presence in the first chapter of her inspiring new book.

Amy Cuddy

You may recall hearing about Amy through her widely viewed TED talk.  The introductory chapter in Amy’s book recounts the talk and it’s aftermath.  While the subject of her traumatic brain injury sustained when she was ejected from a vehicle does not make it’s appearance until the 16:00 minute mark of the TED talk, it is featured prominently up front in the book.

On page 11 of the book, Amy writes: “In the beginning I was overwhelmed by the response to the TED talk and by the sense that I might have made a big mistake in sharing my research and my personal story.  I had no expectation that so many strangers would watch it and had no idea how incredibly vulnerable and exposed I’d feel.”

Reading this prompts thoughts of how courageous it is for patients and their families who become vision therapy advocates to put themselves and their stories out there for public consumption.  They include Sue Barry, Jillian & Robin Benoit, Michele Chigas Hillman, Cavin Balaster, and Clark Elliott.  The idea of feeling vulnerable and exposed is something we think we can appreciate, but have no true idea of until we find ourselves in a similar situation.  Think about that the next time you ask a patient to share a “Success Story” that will be posted in your office, or you ask permission to tape an interview that will go on a social media site.  We owe these individuals a very special sense of gratitude.

6 thoughts on “L’espirit d’escalier

  1. So true! We see and hear so many of these stories that for many of us it may at times be “old hat”, but for those who share, no doubt each sharing entails at the very least SOME of the original emotions. Remembering to be grateful for them “putting themselves out there” is important. For another excellent example of a family that did just this, (not vision related), see Glen Campbell’s story on Netflix.

  2. Many parents share their successes in the hope that other parents will not have to spend years before they hear of vision therapy and get help for their struggling children. We see a very special group. Just how special they are is demonstrated by their willingness to help others even as they have done whatever is necessary to help their own children. They deserve the gratitude of all.

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