L)) In My Own Words: Listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of a podcast episode I recorded where I talk about my experiences and how it changed the way I viewed society and the world around me for the rest of my life.
"I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being truly included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal […] this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider."
This week I have been doing some soul searching. I didn’t expect that I would react to this news as I did this time. Perhaps it’s because I’m more in touch with my thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the painful memories of a past long forgotten seemed to have come to haunt me again. I am sorry for being unclear but my thoughts and emotions are unsettled.
Let me take you back to a time when I was a boy of around 10. I was watching the local news in the evening when I heard the name of one of my best friends being mentioned. I admit that I was jealous at first. I was curious to know what had happened. I listen attentively… He was being awarded a prize for kindness… I listened more attentively now. A prize, for what?
And then , I understand he was being rewarded for ‘helping’ his ‘poor handicapped friend’. Who? Then, it dawned on me as if I was struck by lightning. I was that boy he was ‘helping’. I was the boy described in terms of a ‘needy’ and even ‘helpless’. I felt that it seemed they were talking about another ‘crippled’ boy - not me! I felt betrayed.
At first, I was angry at my supposed ‘friend’. I was angry because I started to suspect that our friendship had been a charade. A ploy to be awarded such a prize or to look nice and popular with others. But, if I think about it, as a child himself, he really had no say in the matter. Undeniably, I did feel betrayed by my friend and while we sort of patched things up, from then on our friendship was never the same.
Why am I telling you this? The truth that this prize for kindness - also known in Maltese as “Premju tat-Tjubija” or “Premju Qalb tad-Deheb)”“ (Golden Heart Award) or “Premju Gwanni XXIII” (Pope John 23rd Award) is an initiative started off by a local NGO called the "Peace Lab”. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the values expressed by this organisation, including the promotion of peace and dialogue between people. However, I believe that the ones who cane up with the idea of awarding a so-called “Prize for Kindness” may not be aware of what impact could have on the children who are being awarded this prize and the child who is ‘being helped’.
I don’t know what my best friend went through then and what he thinks of this experience today. What I can say that it left me with a sense of betrayal and forced me to mistrust others who sought my friendship for a long time. You know it is said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. And I’m sure that my teachers and school had all the good intentions by nominating my friend. But while my friend achieved a certain prestige and recognition, I felt suddenly I was invalidated as a person. And the way the media portrayed me, again, was less than flattering. I was the taker and a burden. I knew that my friend didn’t see our friendship as a one-way thing. Yet, I was forced to question everything. Was I a ‘sacrifice’?
Yes, it took years before I can say that I regained some trust. However, in spite of the terrible things they said about me. Defining me only in terms of my physical impairment. As if that was my problem. My curse. I have adapted to it didn’t I? Why do you need to deny that my body is part of who I am? Instead, you rob me of any claims to my individual identity. And so, deny my humanity. I know that these are hard words to write. But I can’t shout them out loud because I would gain nothing. For, even if we hate to admit it, such prizes only reinforce our social inequalities not just as disabled people but as human beings. We have to reward a friendship because we still perceive a disabled child to be always ‘less fortunate’. He or she is always taking. As if our friendship wasn’t based on mutual respect and understanding. As if we didn’t share our childhood together.
I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal. I am sorry to have to say all this but I can’t help feeling that this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider.
Today, I understand that we are all co-dependent. We all need each other in today’s world. By pretending to be doing charity by simply sending money where, granted, it is needed will not solve the problems of poverty, lack of access, food shortage and the many problems that we all must share responsibility for. Awarding a prize for kindness will always mean that one is, in some way, inferior to another. And, worse, the fact that you’re telling children that a friendship between a disabled and a non-disabled friend is an act of kindness is telling them that such a friendship is a sacrifice where one party is always the less important - the less of value. Have we become so desperate for kindness that we need to reward even ordinary friendships by painting them using our own narratives of heroes and courage?
Now, my last thoughts. I know that I have used strong language here. But, honestly, I don’t want other children to go through my experience. Yes, I have learned from it as well. Yet, I believe it is diametrically opposed to the principles of inclusion I believe in. A prize for ‘kindness’ is also a misunderstanding of charity. Charity requires us to practice compassion where we help others not out of pity and because we think we are better than them. Compassion and charity are about being with another human being and looking at him or her as your equal. It’s not and should never be a power relationship.
And what about the idea of rewarding kindness?
“Virtue is its own reward”!
At least, it should be!
> from: Gordon's D-Zone
> from: ZoneMind