The Boy with Super Powers: Message from the Morning Man by Kojo Yankson

The Boy with Super Powers: Message from the Morning Man
by Kojo Yankson
14th March 2016
I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you all. I’ve been out of action for a whole week, not because I’ve been particularly unwell – just because I lost my voice. Yeah, I had a cold before we went to the Central Region for the Roadshow, and of course, while I was there, I didn’t really have a chance to rest, so I ended up losing my voice. All through last week, I couldn’t muster much more than a croak out of my throat. It’s been a very slow process getting my voice back, and I’m not quite there yet, but there was no way in hell I was going to let anything keep me from waking you all up this morning, so… here I am, ready to soldier through. Mind over matter!
Speaking of mind over matter…
Someone posted an extraordinary video on a WhatsApp platform I belong to. It starts off with a young boy washing a pair of eyeballs under running water. Yeah, weird. This young man turns out to be Ben Underwood – a teenage boy who happens to be blind. But then the video goes on to show Ben doing some amazing things. Shooting basketball hoops and netting the ball every single time, rolling down the street on rollerblades, riding a bike – in fact, not just riding a bike, but doing tricks on the bike – running up and down the stairs with no white cane, no seeing-eye dog, no help whatsoever, walking and running along the street, avoiding obstacles on the sidewalk, just as if he can actually see them there.
Basically, unless you’re told, there is absolutely nothing about this running, jumping, bike-riding, basketball-playing teenager to even remotely suggest that he is blind. And Ben Underwood is definitely blind. Not partially blind. Totally blind. The boy had his eyes removed at the age of three, due to cancer. The eyeballs he’s seen washing in the kitchen sink at the beginning of the video are his prosthetic eyes. The boy cannot see a thing.
Well, not with his eyes anyway.
Ben sees with sound. As he walks along, he makes clicking sounds with his mouth. The sound echoes off the objects around him, and he has trained his ears to pick up those echoes and translate the sound into information about exactly how far away each object is. Imagine that for a second. Imagine a mind that can decipher all that information from one simple clicking sound. And not just decipher it, but interpret it so accurately – in nanoseconds – enabling Ben to shoot a basketball accurately into the net, walk, run, ride a bike, and even rollerblade down streets he has never been on in his life.
This is what the human brain is capable of.
And I’m not just talking about young Ben’s brain. I’m talking about every properly functioning brain in every single human head. You see, Ben achieved this feat of being the only human in the world who sees through sound, by doing just one thing. Practice. From age three, he practiced clicking and listening to the echoes. He practiced and practiced until his ears learnt to tell the difference in the echoes and how those differences represented objects of different sizes located at different distances and in different directions from where he stood. It’s pretty much like a super-power, and young Ben developed it slowly and painstakingly by himself, to the point where he no longer considers himself blind. Like he says in the video, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with me”.
My friends, my message to you this morning is that everyone can train themselves to be that good in one thing or the other. It’s like programming a computer. We are all born with brains which – like computers from the factory – come along with pretty much the same specifications. The things we expose our brains to become the information they store – just like computers. The more you expose your brain to a particular activity or a particular type of information, the more you programme it to process that type of information faster and more accurately. It’s like you’re downloading special software for it to do that particular thing and do it well.
David Beckham has trained his brain to accurately measure the distance from wherever he is standing on the football pitch to the goalpost. His brain can then deliver accurate information to his waist on the exact way to swivel, to his thighs on exactly how much power to employ, and to his foot on exactly what angle to strike the 440gram FIFA standard football, in order for it to travel through the air in a perfect arc, past the goalkeeper’s fingertips into the corner of the net. His brain has learnt how to do this through years of practice. While his friends were at home watching TV, Beckham was on the football pitch in the rain, kicking ball after ball into the net, until he programmed his brain to do it right every time.
I love movies. I have watched and read about so many of them, that now, after watching no more than five seconds of any part of a Hollywood blockbuster, I could probably tell you the title of the movie, name the actors, the director, and in 8 cases out of ten, the year in which it was released, EVEN IF I HAVE NEVER SEEN THE MOVIE! Yeah, a bit weird and spooky (and now, I kinda wish I hadn’t revealed just how much of a film nerd I am) but it’s pretty much the same principle. I consume movies. I don’t just watch them, I read about them. I read about the actors, the directors, their peculiar styles and their methods of telling stories, so in a five-second clip form any popular movie, my mind will find enough information from the scenery, the dialogue, the camera movement, the musical score, and a million other details, and cross-reference them against the huge mental database of films I’ve watched and read about, to identify the film title and all the key people in it. Yes, it’s a virtually useless super-power in the real world, but it came from the same principle – practice is programming.
So you see, when people say “mind over matter”, well, this is how it works. The only way your mind will overcome matter is through practice. If you continuously expose your mind to something, your mind becomes good at it. It’s simple. Practice is programming. So today, I want you to ask yourself, what is it you want to be good at? Are you downloading the programming your mind needs to make you an expert at it? Practice is powerful. Do not underestimate it. If it can make a blind boy see, just think what it can do to you. It actually does work, so try it today. I certainly will. It’s the only way I can do my job when I’ve lost my voice. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with me.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and my brain is just like yours. It’s what I fill it with that makes the difference.