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What Does "Blind Leading the Blind" Mean?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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When English speakers use the phrase, “the blind leading the blind,” they are referring to a situation where the leaders of a group are no more skilled or able than are those who follow them, making the leadership process ineffective. This can relate to any sort of skill or ability, though it’s usually used more to refer to the inability of leaders to plan or anticipate challenges. In general, English speakers often use the word “blind” metaphorically to refer to various kinds of inability to understand relevant realities.

The phrase “blind leading the blind” has been around for a while, and many word historians trace it back to the New Testament of the Bible, where in the book of Matthew, a verse refers to “the blind leading the blind.” Here, this phrase illustrates the use of idiomatic or metaphorical speech in a “parable,” which is a story that is allegorical in nature. A similar allegory or metaphor has been found in other sacred texts like the Upanishads, a central text in the Hindu religion.

Throughout many centuries, the idea of the blind leading the blind has been familiar in English speaking societies. This idea has been reflected in the arts, for example, in oil paintings and performances of theatre. The idea is a powerful one related to how humans view the world around them.

A similar phrase is often used for someone’s inability to understand their environment regardless of their leadership status. If someone says that someone else is “blind to the world around them,” it means that this person does not understand key aspects of his or her environment. This can be used to generally point out a lack of awareness that can doom an individual in many different ways, for example, where the inability to assess liability can lead to compromising risks.

In addition to phrases like “the blind leading the blind,” where the word “blind” is used to indicate incapacity, there’s another similar way to talk about a deficiency of awareness that has a slightly different meaning. English speakers can also say that a leadership team “has blinders on,” where the “blinders” are an allegorical reference to physical items put on horses to keep them from startling when driven. The difference here is that using the word “blinders” as opposed to “blind” indicates that it is not incapacity to see that plagues the subject, but willful avoidance, whether it is self-generated or imposed by other persuasive parties.

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Discussion Comments

By Inaventu — On Aug 07, 2014

Sometimes I interpret this expression as two different forms of blindness. The followers really are physically blind, so they are completely dependent on someone who can guide them through the problem. But the leaders are more spiritually or intellectually blind. They can see well enough physically, but they are "blind" to their situation. They can't see the solution because they are too far into the problem themselves.

By AnswerMan — On Aug 07, 2014

I've been put in a few "blind leading the blind" situations at work, and most of the time the situation ends badly. But sometimes a person just has to step up and become the blind leading the blind, because the problem won't fix itself and someone has to be in charge of finding a solution.

If you take the expression at face value, it sounds like a completely negative situation. However, sometimes everyone in the room is "blind", but they still have to find a way out.

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