Giving Beauty & the Beasts a chance
I recently visited the Vatican City, at the same time when protest marches were being held in Ireland over the child abuse scandals against the Roman Catholic church.
The most beautiful thing about the Vatican City that struck me was neither the art nor the architecture – those were pretty but were cloying after a while. The most beautiful thing I saw were actually 2 men. One of them was the ticket seller to the Vatican Museum — he had only one finger and a slight stump of a thumb. Yet he was collecting money, giving change, dispensing tickets, with the speed and efficiency of any other ticket seller.
Having grown up in a culture where fetuses are screened and aborted for abnormalities, where disadvantaged persons can only sell tissue paper, where we are taught to pity them with paltry donations into tin cans, I’ve been flooded all my life with messages that disadvantaged persons were a liability to society. In the recent few past years, greater awareness about their abilities have been campaigned for, and I came to think that disadvantaged people could be as contributive to society as any other person could be — all a disadvantaged person had to do was a job that did not depend primarily on the skills he was handicapped for, and for society to give him that chance.
But the Vatican City ticket seller challenged my view completely. It said something about a society who would hire a person with only 1.5 fingers to sell tickets to thousands. It said something about a person who would take a job that primarily made use of a skill he was handicapped for – and excel at it.
The other person who touched me was the locker room (where visitors could deposit their bags and bulky items in lockers and pigeon holes) attendant. Visitors did not deposit their items into the lockers directly – they passed it to the attendant over the counter who then had to make sure everything was in place. This attendant had Downs’ Syndrome (or something similar, by his looks), and was as efficient and orderly as any good attendant I’ve ever come across.
I long for the day where my society would not see cheap foreign labor as the first choice for these jobs, and cease to see disadvantaged people as being disabled.
But I do think we are getting there. In the recent few years past, I have come across people with Downs’ Syndrome travelling by themselves on the MRT, very competently like any other normal person. A decade ago, such people were always accompanied by caregivers. Just seeing these people on the MRT more than convinces me that, if society gave them an education that is every citizen’s right, people with handicaps could be no less functional than a “normal” person. The image of a disabled person staring blankly into space, depending entirely on her caregiver, is one that is the fault of a society which has already condemned the person from birth, and has shirked its duty of investing in that person’s well being and education.
Visiting both the Vatican and Ireland during this period also is a reminder that no organization is perfectly good or perfectly bad. It was at the Vatican that I saw the most beautiful accordance of respect and dignity to people who have long suffered unjust and undue discrimination. Yet it is within the same Roman Catholic church system, that gross widespread child abuse has taken place. It really highlights the importance of not demonizing organizations or people, and the dangers of idolizing organizations of people. We need to look beyond identities, and look at each deed for itself, evaluate each deed for itself, so that the good can be recognized and reinforced, and the bad can be stopped and brought to justice.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a Chinese friend. When I pointed out the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party, he pointed out that Communism in China actually brought equality to women by allowing them to equal status in the workforce, that slavery in Tibet was abolished, and that prosperity has grown. Of course, we who have been influenced by the Western media would look at each of these achievements with a raised eyebrow, yet what we really need to do is to stop seeing these organizations as morally responsible persons, but start looking at each deed for itself, because you will find both good and bad.
When the Western and Islamic countries demonize each other, their accusations are probably true. But to the people that belong to each of these groups, they would see themselves for the good that they are, and very understandably feel a sense of injustice done towards them , when they are accused of being the monsters they do not see in themselves, their families and friends. And we all know that injustice and a threat to the safety of your loved ones are the strongest motivations for a person to risk life and limb to fight against the “enemy”. Is there any wonder we’re not going to solve the threat of terrorism in a long long time?