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Monday, November 26, 2012

Renewing the Political Contract


I hesitate to write about political issues for a number of reasons. One is, of course, that anything I say risks being interpreted in one way or another and I don’t want to be given a political label. Second, the fact that, as a visually impaired person, I am forced to vote in front of what is called an “electoral commission” means that, in a way, my vote is an open secret. Don’t get me wrong - I do trust the representatives of the electoral commission to a point. Besides, members of the commission are bound by law to keep my vote a secret.who are bound by law to keep my vote a secret but everyone knows human nature and how easy it is for people to break that trust for ulterior motives. 
I am hopeful, however, that with Malta’s ratification of the United Nations  Convention Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), this situation will be rectified since Article 29 of the same convention sets out to guarantee the right to participate in public and political life (including the right to a secret vote). Indeed, as the implementation of the UNCRPDin Malta goes underway, our country should redress this situation of inequality in voting as the issue of secret voting is one of the areas identified as needing change (according to this press release
However, this isn’t just something we, disabled people, will benefit from. True, all of us who are blind or have a visual impairment, those of us who due to a physical impairment can’t use our hands or have a print disability are bound to benefit. But this right will also provide people who cannot read or write, for example, with the chance to vote in secret. Regrettably, I am also aware that certain disabled people, including people with an intellectual impairment or those with mental health conditions are often denied the right to vote altogether.  
I admit that I feel anxious when it gets to the voting season. The fact is, as things stand, I know that I must reveal my political affiliations once again to another group of perfect strangers. Trustworthy, perhaps, but still strangers. While I don’t find any problem with sharing my political views with those I trust the most, I’m not comfortable with revealing my positions to others (whoever they may be). The fact   that most citizens can vote in secret means that, come election time, I am unequal when it comes to the secret vote. Moreover, I do fear the consequences  of revealing my political views to members of the electoral commission as they are also    political representatives who may put party or personal interests over my individual freedoms. I am concerned that certain people might not respect my political opinions and might hold my political beliefs against me resulting in unhappy repercussions.
Having said that, any political beliefs I might have doesn’t mean I think  of  disability in terms of party politics. Indeed, I firmly believe that disability is an issue that shouldn’t be politicised in the sense that disability  should never become victim to partisan political exigencies. In addition, it would be irresponsible for me to bring party politics into this issue - especially since I became  involved in public life. 
However, I also feel that, even if I won’t take a position in favour of some party or another, I am still entitled to comment on what, I believe, is wrong with politics in general and in the local context in particular and what changes I would like to see in contemporary politics. I want to make it clear from the onset that I don’t claim to have any level of political expertise but the ideas I present below are based on my relatively short experience and reflections on the issues of politics and democracy.     

Respecting the Principles of Democracy

Indeed, two principles that I feel are essential to ensure a true democracy are equality before the law and freedom of expression. However, the latter principle is inseparable from the right of every citizen to equality and freedom of expression. Thus, it’s debatable whether a far right party which campaigns to deny those it judges to be ‘a threat to national identity’ from their rights and dignity have a place in a true democracy if their campaign incites intolerant or hateful conduct. In addition, the secret vote can be seen as a way to allow citizens to express their personal opinions without fear of discrimination or intimidation. 
Now, I will try to move from an overview of the principles, I believe, are important foundations of democracy to how, in practical terms, politicians should apply them in their political careers. As I already said, these are only my suggestions on what I observed.

The Need for Constructive Dialogue

It’s important that politicians:
  • •In a debate, listen to each other.
  • •Listen to each other.
  • •Allow each party to develop an argument in reasonable time.
  • •Listen to the people out there.
It is regrettable that debates sometimes end up like shouting contests or meeting the public becomes more of an event where politicians seem to be fishing for voters...

The Need forCooperation

I regret that sometimes it appears as if politicians live in different countries, if not planets. While it may be understandable for each politician to have partisan interests, their duty remains to serve the whole population and not just party followers. 
Indeed, politicians of different political views should do their best to serve the people as they have been elected by us, the voters. Any successes and failures a country faces will affect all of us, including them. We remain, as a people, interdependent and, thus,  should be united as a people. It’s unhealthy for certain politicians or staunch party followers to take pleasure when an opposing party fails in some way. If the country fails, it’s just a lose-lose situation. No one will benefit.

The Need forReconciliation

I can’t emphasise enough of the importance of fostering a politics that fosters reconciliation. We might not agree on ideological grounds and we should value our principles. However, there’s space where we can reach a compromise and put a genuine effort to find a middle ground that will be of benefit to the whole rather than to just a few. This isn’t implying that we should forget the past as if nothing happened for the past can offer invaluable knowledge and insight and help both avoid repeating past mistakes and making sure that future plans are directed by experience.

The Need for More  Political Pluralism

Our political system has been largely influenced by the British system following years of colonisation. Consequently, we have largely retained a two-party system. While this system has worked well, it does have some downside to it. The fact is that a two-party system tends to polarise parties rather than encourage more healthy debate and exchange of ideas. Political pluralism shouldn’t just remain confined to media (as it is at present) but should also be reflected in parliament or in the parliamentary or similar institutions where national decisions are taken.
More voices representing fresh voices can help to encourage a healthier debate and, in way, help ensure that majority parties are kept in check. However, whether a country’s citizens will be ready to elect people representing a third voice is in their own hands. More voices, of course, may create problems in the running of a country but there can be much value in having greater diversity within the decision making process. . 

My Final Appeals...

To conclude this entry, I feel the need to make two appeals that, first, gather the main points I tried to make in this entry, and second, emphasise the importance of every citizen’s to participate in the renewal of the political contract based on the principles of democracy. Thus:    
First, I appeal to local politicians and all those who are involved in politics to respect the principles of democracy. Not to put party or personal interests before the people. To remember that we, the people, have elected you and we expect you to serve us responsibly and with integrity. We also expect you to practice your profession skilfully, including ensuring you engage in constructive dialogue that is based on cooperation. A dialogue, I believe, which should foster reconciliation on matters that affect us all as a people and a dialogue that opens up to more voices. 
Second, I appeal to all readers of voting age not to take the vote for granted.  Failing to vote because you’re disillusioned with politics means you’re forfeiting your  right to have a voice and evading your duty. A failure to vote is not a protest vote but simply giving a go ahead for others to decide your future on your behalf. 
As someone who is still denied the right to a secret vote, I also wish to express hope that, if not in the next general election (due in a matter of months), I will have the opportunity to vote in secret for a change. Then, I would be truly included as an equal in the democratic process! 


I hope my ideas have given you some food for thought. Even if it’s important to make it clear once again that I’m no political expert, I have considered these principles and practical suggestions based on an understanding I have gained through my Buddhist practice. In fact, I find that the principle of co-dependence or how we remain essentially dependent on each other in life has inspired large part of my approach.
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Akwarell Speech: A Message on Independence, Hope and Thanksgiving

Opening Statements

A photo of me taken by one of my brothers, Daniel,  during the inaugaration of Akwarell.

Welcome your excellencies, members of parliament, distinguished guests, family and friends and all those of you who came to celebrate this occasion.

An occasion so important in my life and in the life of my other friends who will be joining me in this new experience...

Today, we are here to celebrate the official opening of our new home, Akwarell*.

To mark this occasion, I wish to share some of my thoughts about what this means to me.

About Community...

At present, Akwarell is just a building. But, I hope, together with my friends, we will turn this building into a home, in the best senses of the word. I think that the name we have chosen for this house: 'Akwarell', expresses how we want this home to be a place to express who we are both as individuals and as a community.

Indeed, in the same way an artist would paint the akwarel, we hope this building will serve us to express our best colours but, at the same time, create something that we could only create with one another. A community of friends.

About independence

However, what Akwarell means goes even beyond that. Akwarell is a place where we can be more independent. Here, it's important to explain what I mean by independence.

Independence does NOT mean we will do everything on our own. Independence does NOT mean we don't need anybody any longer. Independence means being able to make our own choices. Independence means having the necessary help and support to fulfil our full potential. And, in truth, no one in society can live on his/her own. We all need each other in life.

Concluding Remarks

There are many people whom we must thank for making all this possible, each in our different way.

For my part I must thank my parents and all my family, my friends and my work-mates at KNPD. If it hadn't been for all of you, I would not be here today.

However, today was only possible because of the work carried out by pioneers such as Mons Azzopardi who wanted to give us, disabled people, back our life and dignity. Mons Azzopardi who also helped change the Church's approach to disability from a question of false charity to one of social responsibility. I must also thank those who followed in his footsteps at Id-Dar tal-Providenza, Mons. Gatt and Fr Martin Micallef.

I think that my friends who will be moving in Akwarell in the coming days will agree with me when I say that we are indebted to all those of you who continue to help and support us to achieve the best possible quality of life.
I trust in your continued support.

Thank you all!

Have a good day...


As explained in my last entry Meditations in Watercolor, last Thursday, I participated in an activity to inaugurate the official opening of our new home at Qawra. I explained how I was asked to be one of the speakers for the occasion - especially since I‚ll be one of the ones who will be living there for the forthcoming future. Since some have expressed the wish to get an idea of what my speech was about, I have decided to share the text I used as a guide in document for my speech. Incidentally, I would later discover that November 22 was also Thanksgiving in the US, so it‚Äôs a speech appropriate to mark such a day - which was, in a sense, an occasion of expressing my thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to live more independently.

*The word "Akwarell" is the Maltese word meaning "water-colour painting".

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Meditations in Watercolour...

It’s official. I will be moving soon to my new house at Qawra. This house, made possible thanks to the funding and support of, mainly, the local Church and the state, was officially opened. Given that, behind this project, there were important stakeholders, it was inevitable that this event was covered by local media.

I was asked to be one of the speakers. As one of the three residents who are going to live there, I was chosen to write a short speech and deliver it during the official opening. I am not a stranger to public speaking but I always get a little bit anxious before speaking. Especially since I was asked to talk about an event which will radically change my life and the lives of two other mates who I will be sharing my house with.

In my speech, I wanted to convey two main ideas as I reflect ed on what this move would mean to me as a disabled person. I remember how I often thought about the prospect of living on my own but, recent occasions when my health and general condition regressed, I feared that this dream would remain just that. A dream. So, when I was asked whether I would want to live in my own place, I grabbed the opportunity. I had my doubts, of course and I still do.But, sometimes, you must take a leap into the unknown.

In my speech, I also wanted to express my deepest thoughts about this important moment in my life. I expressed my hopes that, together with my mates, this building will not remain a construction made of stones but, I hope will become a community of friends. We chose to call our new home “Akwarell”, which is the Maltese word for “water colour painting” and I explained how our individual differences as disabled people could be compared to the colours found on an artists’ palette. We all have our distinct qualities. We all have our unique beauty. Yet, like the blend of colours found in a water colour painting, together we can create a thing far greater than who we are as individuals.

Another reflection I shared concerned the question of independence. I tried to explain what I meant to me to live independently. That is wasn’t about doing everything on my own. That it wasn’t about denying the support of others. I tried to explain how independence meant to me, as a disabled person, the opportunity to make choices over my life. And even if I may need the support and assistance of others to realise my choices, as long as it’s my decision, then I’m independent. I also reflected on the fact that nobody in real life is truly completely independent from another as we all, disabled or not, depend on one another to live in this world (1).

Finally, I talked about how all the people in my life have contributed to making this moment possible. How, if it wasn’t for the people who sustained me throughout my life - my parents, family, friends, work mates and many others I knew and others I didn’t know - I might have been a different person. I also talked about how if it hadn’t been for visionaries like Mons Azzopardi, a charismatic priest, who worked to promote the idea that we, disabled people, had a right to an equal human dignity which challenged the false idea of charity which belittled us to inferior examples of human beings. I expressed my gratitude because thanks to people like Mons Azzopardi and those who followed in his footsteps, Mons Gatt and Fr Micallef (today), that we have a culture shift also in the Church (2).

Even if I am committed to Buddhist practice, I cannot deny that if it hadn’t been for the good works carried out by the Church in ensuring social justice, I wouldn’t have the opportunity today to live my life to its full potential. I’m also grateful for this and for being able to have a choice in how I live my life and in how to express my authentic being. I remain indebted to the many people who have helped me every step of the way. That, I may never be able to repay. I decided to spend this weekend at home where I have lived most of my life. I’m sure I’ll have moments of doubt on whether I was really ready to make this transition.

However, I feel that, as with any change, there will always be a degree of uncertainty. It’s part of the process of life and refusing to accept the cycle of change leads to decay and death. I will be probably doing a lot of meditation over the coming weekend. However, I trust that this change will bring me new experiences and a fresh insight into who I am and on my relation to others and the world.

For now, I can just say thank you to all those who helped me get to where I am today. To who I am today. Thank you!

(1) This idea was inspired by the idea of co-dependence found in Buddhist teachings, or the idea that everything depends on another to exist.
(2) Another idea borrowed from dharma, or the idea that we create and are created simultaneously by other objects in the world (whether material or abstract).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yesterday's Child: A Few Afterthoughts

Since my last entry where I shared a few thoughts following an encounter with whom I called yesterday’s child, I find that there are a lot of emotions and feelings that I still need to process. I admit, I’m still unsure from where in my heart did these feelings flow. 
On one hand, this child took me back to my own childhood. Perhaps I was nostalgic as I was reminded of a past that I could never recapture. To realise how foolish it was for me,at the time, to become a grown up. To become an adult would mean, I believed, being able to live my life as I pleased. How foolish I was for wanting to grow up so soon and miss out on that precious time that childhood is.
I also felt a certain fear that I may never become a father. Or, if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do all the things fathers do with their children. I am not particularly keen on sports either - which would be an issue if I had a boy or girl who liked sports. As yesterday’s child did. I know that there are things which, I hope, I would be able to impart on my children. But, still, there’s still that lingering thought that I would never live to an ideal.
On the other hand, in retrospect, these thoughts are just thoughts and don’t have any real basis. Rather, they may help me live better today. For, I may not be able to recapture my childhood but I can commit myself to cherish the present and try to live the now to the full. The present moment remains the only one we can be in and the only time we have a choice. In this sense, my concerns for the future are, in a way, only the cause of unnecessary pain. For, I should accept whatever life offers and do my best. For whether I have a child or not, whether s/he will accept me and so on remain questions that can’t be answered or will never be answered at all.
This life of mine, I realise, is the only one I’m sure of. It’s precious because, I know, all lives will end. I can’t live forever. And, as I remember what yesterday’s child taught me, it’s important for us to reach out to those around us and to every other person living in this world. I have failed in this and still fail. But I know that I need to be compassionate to others. Not just for the sake of others but for my own sake.
I thank all those who told me that they liked reading my last entry on yesterday’s child. I admit, I was flattered. But, later, I felt a certain feeling of guilt. Had I used the child in my account for my own ends? In a way, I did. I did like many others who help others for the sole reason to receive praise. I might have fallen to an arrogance of those who help others only to be praised and photographed. People, I’ve met myself, who make a living exploiting those who are going through injustice and inequalities to appear as saviours - when they’re in fact, in some way, abusing the dignity of others for personal gain.
I hope, at least, that my post didn’t go so far. But, then again, I am aware that - without knowing or wanting - we may be doing the same thing. We may be inflicting needless suffering on those who are victims of injustice and inequality. We may waste food and water capriciously when people in some parts of the world are dying of hunger or thirst. We may take our homes for granted, when there are millions of people homeless or living in poor housing conditions. We may take our loved ones for granted, when there are people out there who have just lost their loved ones because of war or natural disasters.
But, of course, we are helpless. We can’t save the whole world. I feel bad because I know that I may never meet yesterday’s child again. Nor do I know if I can help in any way if I did meet this child. Yet, I feel a kind of guilt for not being able to do more. Yet, I have to be realistic and focus on what I can achieve today. To return to the beginning of this entry, it’s important for me to focus on the present. This doesn’t mean that I ignore the future and fail to plan ahead. But, inasmuch as it’s wise to set out plans for the future, the present is the one moment we have that is truly guaranteed. 
So, how can I help? How can you help? I feel that even if I may be unable to help yesterday’s child, there are a lot of people I meet on an everyday basis - some I know, others not. It’s there that I can make a difference. For one may aspire to go abroad to help others experiencing poverty and all that which is good. But, on the other hand,one can also do a lot here where you live. You can change things in the way you relate to the others around you. You can practice compassion today. You can take the time to understand others here. You can relate to others as equals now.
The only thing I can offer you here are  my words. I know that what I have written might not make any difference in your life or the life of others. I don’t expect it too. But all I hope is that somewhere, someone will stop and reflect on what I wrote. For life passes quickly and we may miss to appreciate the moment we’re given. A moment that, like our childhood, is lost forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child...

To yesterday's child:

I thank you for not judging me because I appeared different. For recognising my difference and, yet, not holding it against me.

I know that you might have been fascinated by my wheelchair and wanted, as you did, to drive it around. Actually, to drive me around…

I appreciate the little time we spent together. The short time we spent getting to learn something about each other.

Perhaps, then, you filled within me a need of a little brother or sister, whom, you know, will seek you when they’re afraid of the dark and trust you will reassure them and take away their fears.

You might have also stirred deep in my heart, a paternal instinct that desires to care and protect all whom may feel unsure about life. Frightened of a a life which sometimes appears so new and unknown. Especially when facing moments of sadness and doubt following a disappointment or an ugly event you still can't express or have the words to describe..

I am not sure whether I gave you anything in return. I know that I was tired and maybe I could have shared more of myself to you.

I am neither sure what impression I left on you. Or whether I could have seemed distant. If so, I am sorry.

For sure, you have renewed my commitment to look beyond the illusion of the self.

A self so preoccupied in defending its hollow existence that it finds no place for others.

A self so absorbed in the lies it tells itself that it is ignorant of its unreality.

And the reality of life?

A life made up of joys and sorrows, life and death, love and hate.

A life where we share a common experience of humanity.

Born into a world and a life we don't choose - to live on through all the good and bad, and, ultimately, to die without knowing what there is beyond with any degree of certainty.

This life. Precious and unique. And, yet, a life we take so for granted.

We experience dissatisfaction as we seek refuge in a material life that is, in itself, impermanence and empty.

There's no happiness...

Until we are ready to recognise our vulnerability not as a sign of weakness or servile submission but as a matter of fact. That we were never meant to be divided amongst ourselves and accept we all need the help and support of those around us - whoever we are..

A humility that forces us to look at at each other on the same level because we are the same human beings. Similarly prone to the ravages of time and decay of matter. .

Birth, ill health, old age and death. No one can escape them. But we can make our life and the life of others worthwhile if we're ready to be more compassionate and less judgmental. Less accusatory. Less ready to fit people into boxes when we come to relate to them on a personal, human, level.

And, yes! It had to be you, a young child who reminded me of the need to open my heart to the other. To open who I am also to my own awareness.

Only with a motivation to learn from our experiences.

Dear yesterday's child,

Since we never had the time to say good bye, I would like to tell you that I will cherish our short encounter for as long as my memory will serve me..

I wish you all the peace and happiness for the future and for the present - which remains the more important as all futures depend on it..

I assure you that you have given me more than I can ever give back.


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Poppies of Flanders Fields

The Poppy - Used as a Symbol to Remember the Horrors of War

"In Flanders Fields" 
By John McCra


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands, we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields


A few reflections... 

Yesterday, 11th November at 11 in the morning, Commonwealth countries celebrated Remembrance Day. However, you may know this day from many of its titles, such as Poppy Day and Armistice Day.

This day was originally intended to remind us of the thousands of men, mostly young men, who died in the trenches of World War I and World War II. The poppy, used as a symbol of this event, was inspired by the poem above entitled “In Flander’s Field” by John McCrae who served in the First World War himself.

It appears to be a simple poem but it prompted me to reflect on the futility of war. Indeed, all the horrible killing that took place on the fields of Flanders, Belgium, were overtaken by nature. The human acts of murder and destruction were replaced by rows and rows of red poppies. In a way, one can see this of nature’s way of expressing mourning for such a great loss of life.

One can argue that the wars taking place in the beginning of the 20th century were necessary to protect our civilisation. Yet, I don’t know whether this was our only option. It appears to me that amongst the chief causes of war is our tendency to separate ourselves from others. A misguided belief that we are somehow better and far superior than other people. And that those who don’t conform are keeping us back or, else, taking from us what we think is our by right.

However, the poppy fields appear to teach us that even from the worst acts of humanity, not all is lost. A hope, perhaps innocent, that death isn’t the final answer. That, terrible as things may be, there’s still hope for growth and renewal. A hope, perhaps, that we recognise the futility of war and violence. To take care not to repeat the patterns of violence and genocide.

Alas, wars are still with us today. And, the poppy day has been sometimes been misappropriated to promote the idea of patriotic duty and, perhaps, lure young men and women into war. A war that remains ugly as it goes against our basic need for each other to make it in this world.

This is more relevant today as we have greater power to destroy the world thanks to our nuclear technology. With these means of apocalyptic potential comes great responsibility. A responsibility that is unprecedented in human history.

For, while we may think the ‘end’ will never come, we should be careful about making the right choices in how we live and what decisions we have to take. We may not be able to stop it if we are faced by war. But we must make sure we have tried. The people living in pre-war Europe never imagined the terrible wars they would have to suffer. Yet, there were signs but people forgot or just remained silent. Until, of course, the human tragedy of war happened.

It may be time for all of us to reflect on the past which, for many of us, happened decades before we were born. Reflect on what remained of all the bloodshed. Memories, perhaps, but even those are slowly fading. Have we progressed? In some ways but there’s still war and fighting around the world on similar issues. Can we afford to be unconcerned? I can’t answer this for you.

The only thing I can say is that everything must come to an end. Even our human species in the course of time. It’s in our interests to protect our world and to invest in each other instead of destroying each other.

If we kill ourselves off tomorrow, the Earth will go on living.

Maybe poppies will die too.

But life will probably prevail.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Meditations on 31 Years of Life

My First Photo as a Newborn Baby…
I’m writing this post before the anniversary of my birthday. I hope it will appear on the day I was actually born on that afternoon of the 8th November 1981. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be 31 which is almost one third of a century.

I don’t know where I’ll be when this gets published on my blog. I might be eating, working or checking my messages. That’s what I expect to be doing on a Thursday afternoon at least. Indeed, as I’m involved in my work and other commitments I find that I’m always on the go. The tendency, of course, is to go through life without really engaging with the unfolding reality. Without being aware of that passing moment. Without realising that you have lost that point in life forever.

I return back to my birthday. It’s very easy to be distracted from focusing on what I should be writing about at times. Thoughts from the past, concerns about the future and my present situation appear to take over my life even now. I was born 31 years ago.

I am expected to remember this occasion.

Yet, how many of us wonder about what was there before you were born? Can we contemplate a time when we were not?

Of course, we have learned that there was a time before we were born. The time of our parents and all the generations that came before them. Each person, no matter how we might judge them today, had a role to play in our being here alive.

In my case, I must also be grateful for scientists who have permitted me to live until this age.

If these people hadn’t survived for one reason or another, I would NOT be here.

The birthday I celebrate and the celebrations of the birthday many others celebrate throughout the year is a testament to an infinite chain of events that arose out of a cycle of co-dependence.

I might dare look even further back in history and trace my origins back to the genesis of our galaxy and even to the point where the universe was created in the first place.

But, as I contemplate the mystery of my being, I am also mystified by the very creation of our universe. For, my experience of time is so short and finite and my knowledge so restricted and limited, that I can only refer to the beginning of time itself but, as I am a being in time, I cannot conceive of a timeless state.

I may be writing this for my own self, I admit. But, the point is simple. As I reflect on my 31st birthday, I am humbled by the fact that I am born of a mother, a father. I am humbled because if it hadn’t been for the many people who came and went before...

If it hadn’t been for the way history has turned out..

If it hadn’t been for the birth of the Earth, the Sun and the solar system...

If it hadn’t been for the fact there was a universe to be in...

If it hadn’t been for life itself.

I WOULD NOT be here…

There’s no more to say.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Old Self That Clings On

It’s the end of another day and as I take a good look at myself, I realise how much I have changed on one level and, yet, how difficult it is to manifest these changes. Indeed, during the times I’m alone and have to face my inner being, if you may, I do notice a conflict between who I am discovering to be authentic about who I am and how I come across to the outside world.

It’s not that I’m living a double life or expressing two completely different identities. Both this new sense of being and the old self seem to co-exist but, at the same time, each self has a story and a history and world view. These may be not necessarily opposite and they certainly don’t represent any split personality. They are more like an inner light that is hidden away by clouds. While the light is there and sometimes feel strong and clearly visible, circumstances only serve to obscure the beauty of this light with its preoccupation with what should be and a dissatisfaction (dukkha) that diminishes our appreciation of the present moment.

I do realise that there is a struggle between part of my being which opens my heart to a basic humanity. A being, so often misrepresented by popular media, of a compassion beyond conditionality or status. A compassion that recognises a universal dependence our essential impermanence.

Yet, it’s not easy to start to be the change you want to see in the world (to take line from Gandhi). It is painful because the safety of habit and the life we get used to provide us with a sense of comfort and relief. Considering another way appears too painful - not just for us but, yes, also for others in our life. A change of mind and engagement with our harts and the hearts of others requires more of us than simply uttering a few words of allegiance or a prayer. It may require to accept our nothingness in the light of a vast universe. It may mean recognising that our life is an ordinary life when compared to the life of the people inhabiting this world. It may be extraordinary in many other ways, but we all have to go through the same stages of life.

The habits we inherit from our previous past remain part of who we are today. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I believe I must accept that I have lived a life in the past I may need to change some aspects of this past. I feel that without accepting the reality of the past, there can be no growth and a great risk of getting too attached to truths that present themselves as absolute and never changing. Reality - a reality, which in itself, is ever changing and always being renewed.

In this sense, a radical rejection of the past would mean uprooting our roots without finding fertile soil to grow our sense of being. At least, at this point, I do find it difficult to really express what I feel inside. And I can’t expect that I will change overnight. But change must happen progressively like any process of growth one finds in nature. For, yes, we remain creatures of nature. Unique and impermanent.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Myths of independence and the Self-Made Person

As I try to figure out what is the matter with my laptop, I realise how much I have become dependent on technology in my daily life. Indeed, one may say that I might be more dependent than other people on technology, especially information technology due to my physical and visual impairments. I realise that if I had just been born just 40 years ago, much of what I have today would have been unthinkable. 

It’s sad but true, but I would probably be staring at the wall waiting for the time to pass, forgotten perhaps, in some institution with no hope of release. And, yes, today I would be 71 today. OK, given that medical treatment to treat my condition were only just being experimented, I would probably be dead. Six feet under. Caput! Finis. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for technological progress (here I’m including medical discoveries) and reform in the socio-political landscape, my current life wouldn’t just be impossible but inconceivable.

I used to believe once in the fairy tale of the self-made individual. A person who goes from being a pauper to a prince, from rags to riches… You get the picture. But even the great “geniuses” of history that we, including self, have thought to have achieved what they have out of sheer will or determination had lots and lots of help and opportunities that allowed them to reach their peak.

However, we tend to mythologise the lives of these so-called “geniuses” and, perhaps conveniently, forget that they had access to opportunities that improved their chances of success.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that such individuals did nothing. In fact, they have developed extraordinary skills and abilities. But to assume that they were born with special abilities would be stuff of fantasy and Hollywood movies. Yes, people may be born with a predisposition to excel in music, science or the arts, for example, if they are not exposed to the right stimuli or in an environment that cultivates their minds, they would not manifest anything.

What if Mozart had been born in a poor family where children had to work the hard way and there was simply no place for music as this wouldn’t contribute to thee livelihood of the family? What if Einstein was born in a part of India where the poverty was so pervasive that the only maths and physics necessary were to calculate how much money you can spend and whether you can balance your food or water to reach home - if you have one that is.

My point is simply that it would be false to believe that individuals can make it on their own. There were many factors, often omitted from biographies, that contributed if not made it possible for people to maximise their potential. This myth of independence and independent actualisation is particularly dangerous when applied to disabled people. I don’t know how many times I was praised for my resolve and determination to go on with life. While my choices had a certain influence on my current position, I would be pretentious and ‘full of it’ if I declared I did it all on my own. Indeed, people with impairments, like myself, may need more help and support to maximise their potential. Will and determination have only a little part to play in all this. If you have a choice but do not know you have one in the first place, it is unlikely that you will take it.

That’s why I believe that we should recognise that the idea of complete independence is but a myth. No one can make it on his or her own in modern society. I also think that we must refrain from mythifying the lives of others just because we think they “have beaten all odds”. Instead, we should be asking why haven’t more people experiencing the same conditions and situations failed to improve on their lives. Is the myth of independent autonomy, as we may call it, a way to rationalise the injustices of poverty and inequality? Are these our way to deny responsibility for the welfare of the whole of society not just those we deem ‘deserving’.

And, I believe, we shouldn’t start pointing at our leaders, our politicians, or those in authority, but first ask ourselves what we are doing ourselves. And, many times, this means distancing ourselves from our own affiliations, biases, prejudices and assumptions and start to treat each other with equal respect and dignity as any other human being.

Yes, I should start with my own life.

The Remains of a Hurricane

It’s unfortunate to hear about the deaths and destruction left behind by the hurricane Sandy. Indeed, as parts of my family live in parts of the US which were the hardest hit by Sandy, I couldn’t help feeling concerned. Fortunately, everyone appears to be ok. Of course, the aftermath following these natural disasters will involve months of repair and things will regain a semblance of ‘normality’ over a long period.

Ironically, Sandy made its appearance during a heated presidential campaign - as if it was trying to present its political agenda. Perhaps it wanted to have a say in the discussion which often focused exclusively on the economy, employment and foreign policy. However, although it blew strongly and inflicted billions of costs on an already struggling American economy, it didn’t appear to have made such an impact on the current contestants for the US elections. Indeed, apart from welcome messages of solidarity, Sandy appears just to be another chapter for the history books.

However, if nothing, what Sandy should teach us is that we avoid dealing with the ecological crisis at our own peril. A crisis that extends from an ongoing extinction of known and unknown species to climate change. Issues that seem to have become subjects suited for children or for light discussion. Unfortunately, the extent we preserve the ecology and the environment will affect every aspect of human life as we know it.

This is fundamental because the ecology is the basis of all living beings. It’s essential for human survival. If we continue prostituting planet Earth for our own political and economic ends, we must be prepared to face more devastation and hardship. While I cannot claim that Sandy and other recent natural catastrophes were caused by the human impact on the environment, these events should be a wake up call for us to realise that without the sustenance of nature and without the environment, all our human achievements - ranging from the most advanced, such as art, science, religion to the most basic, such as food and water will not exist any longer.

In this sense, politicians around the world should take the ecological crisis more seriously than other crisis. For if left unchecked, an ecological crisis will leave our economies worthless.

That would mean the end of the human world.

Shall we stop it?