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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The True Meaning of Charity (Part 1)



Each year, during this time, I feel a feeling of unease and inadequacy as charity events aimed at collecting funds to help the most needy and, alas, “less fortunate” amongst us. I feel this sense that, as a person, I am somehow less than my friends, family and other human beings living in the world. Having an impairment and consequently experiencing the effects of a disabling society, which sometimes chooses to exclude me and pretends  to  be entitled to speak on my behalf, makes me feel like an object to be used for other people’s  ends and a subject to be spoken about and rarely as a whole person. Indeed, so-called “charity” events seem to inflate the false idea that disabled people are not like other human beings.


I regret that I have been uncomfortable to acknowledge my physical reality - my impairment. However, as I have grown to embrace the Buddhist outlook, I acknowledge that my body is part of who I am. Indeed, it has made me who I am today. While some voices in society may dismiss my body as deficient and deformed in some way, the body remains the only means by which I can relate to the world. We are not minds (or souls) trapped in bodies. Both mind and body possess the qualities that make me the persons we are today. Attempting to divide these two aspects of our humanity risks to destroy the value of our integrity as whole persons.


Unfortunately, how society talks of the body appears to put across an impossible ideal of the healthy, permanent and fully functional body. Any other variations to this idea are, at best, put across as incomplete or, at worse, unworthy of life. I learned since I was young that my body was the problem. Sadly, this meant that I grew to hate my body and indulged in a fantasy of a disembodied mind. I sought refuge in applying my mind to learn, think and many a time sought to overstrain my body to please those around me. Don’t get me wrong, any physical achievement gives me pleasure and satisfaction back then as it does today. Yet, at the same time, the moments when my body didn’t deliver could become times of great personal failure and guilt for not living up to the high expectations of others that were often unrealistic and, frankly, unreachable given my physical condition.


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