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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The End of a Ten Year Long Chapter in my Life

FIRST, A HAIKU...

 

The Promise of  Ends

“Good and bad fruit die,

Joy follows sorrow. Life, death,,

Ends have beginnings.  “

 

A DIFFICULT CHOICE

 

I had time to reflect on these realities of life last week as I formally  submitted my resignation from my current position of assistant research manager which  I occupied in the local disability sector. I admit that I spent over ayear thinking about resigning from my job. However, I confess that I was still relatively happy and comfortable with the work I was doing in the field.

 

The fact that I was a disabled person meant that I am aware that it’s difficult to find a new job if I left this one. 

 

Moreover, given that many employers still had poor expectations of disabled people meant that I would be always at a disadvantage.. 

 

Indeed, in spite of the qualifications I have been awarded over the years, misconceptions abound. What’s more, a large number of disabled people may really have no educational credentials to present prospective employers. Here, it must be said this is often the fault of a past educational system where disabled people were sent off to special schools and it might be symptomatic of an educational system that fails to prepare disabled children for their future as adults.  

 

Disabled people who find themselves under-qualified are often  the product of an educational system that has  failed them.    

 

LIFE-CHANGING MOMENTS 

 

Putting these considerations aside, I must also say that my relationship with the National Commission Persons with Disability  (KNPD) [which was the organisation I was  employed with], goes way back to 2003 when, in addition to my severe physical impairment, I was developing a profound visual impairment which would affect me for the rest of my life.

 

Indeed, my initial involvement with KNPD since my first contact in 2003 would transform the way I viewed myself as a disabled person. I changed from being a shy disabled youth who resisted being called “disabled” or being seen in the company of disabled people to a rebellious, and perhaps, and militant disabled person.

 

 For the first time, I understood that claiming to be a disabled person was a political statement affirming that many of the problems we faced in society weren’t due to the fact we had impairments but simply because society failed to take our differences into account.. 

 

 All this would lead me to become a vocal disability activist and, I hope, an active contributor in making my country more equal and inclusive of disabled people and others who still remain socially excluded or disadvantaged. 

 

Yes, I admit that I committed some mistakes in my early days as a disability activist, such as adopting an extreme position on the disability issue. However, I was committed to the cause of making our world a more inclusive world for everyone while respecting and keeping in mind our differences as persons.  

 

SHIFTING IDENTITIES...

 

Eventually, I would choose to further my studies in the area of disability by completing a masters in Disability Studies at the University of Leeds During this period, I . I felt at home as I felt I  had returned home to  academia, where I felt free to expand and express who I was. It was a time     which brought back many memories of the time I was a student reading, that time, for a Honours degree in English at the University of Malta.

 

 Yes, I admit that I always  enjoy learning which might explain why, in spite of leaving KNPD, I still lecture part time in a fresh Masters degree In Disability Studies being taught at the University of Malta. But, I digress… After graduating from Leeds, I applied for a job at KNPD and, when all the candidates were interviewed, I was notified that I was selected to start work.

 

My first day at KNPD, I remember, was the 14th February of 2007, and yes it was  Saint Valentine’s Day of that year.

 

From that day on, I started doing a lot of work ranging from preparing research papers, writing article pieces for local and international publications. I also continued delivering talks to various institutions on disability issues, which I had started around 2003.

 

Part of my work was to raise awareness and educate the public on disability issues included  delivering talks called Disability Equality Training and Disability Awareness Training (DAT)   aimed at providing the public with an accurate picture of disability and raise awareness about the barriers we face in society as disabled people with DET talks mainly focusing on the legal obligation of those delivering services to the public to be aware of the Equal Opportunities Act (Cap 413) and how to implement the act in practice..

 

In this sense, I can say that my involvement with KNPD started off from the time I had my first contact with KNPD in 2003 for which I was also doing voluntary work as I was learning to adapt to my visual impairment, a new addition to my list of impairments; to the  day I was formally employed in 2007.  

 

A CHALLENGING TIME!

 

Yes, a decade has passed. I have many fond memories of these years and some painful ones as well. I was going through many changes at once. I had become a disability activist and, yes, I  was - In some ways - an “extremist”.

 

Back then. I have met great people and it was the time I felt at ease with my body and my impairments. In fact, if I  hadn’t  acquired my impairments, I would have missed to meet all the wonderful individuals, genuine human beings, who really believe in what they’re doing. I confess that if it hadn’t been for KNPD and the people who worked there, I’d probably end up falling into a state of  depression and despondency or worse.

 

Indeed, the people working there gave me a new purpose to go on and built my self-confidence and trust. While this entry, however long, can’t possibly do justice to the past, I still wanted to write it to remind myself of the gifts that KNPD has given me and to pay tribute to the people I met, who often work in silent and whom are often misunderstood and misrepresented. 

 

I think that I need to conclude this entry. Yes, it was a brief stroll down memory lane but it’s unhealthy to wallow in nostalgia. The past is no longer here and trying to revive the past too much risks stalling any progress we should be making. It also distracts us from enjoying the gifts of life the present gives us right this moment. All things must end but this needs not be a tragedy. I guess that this is the main message I wanted to convey through this entry.

 

The 10 years that I spent between doing voluntary work and paid work were, on the whole, pleasant. However, this isn’t saying that it was always full of moments of joy and successes. It was also a time of sorrow and failures. It’s this realisation that prompted me to write the haiku you found at the start. For, while we may despise change or mourn the ending of the life we knew, it is sometimes this end that offers us the possibility of growth and renewal:.

 

“Every beginning has an ending. Every life will one day end. This is death. Our lives must change and will keep changing.”

 

CH-CH-CHANGES... 

 

Every beginning has an ending. My journey and every human life  cannot stop from changing. Change is necessary for growth and maturity. A person who doesn’t change or grow is a corpse, a dead person. I have  grown, I hope, from that twenty year old who had just left university and adapting to his visual impairment. I have also come to change how I viewed myself as a disabled person over this decade. I have gradually adopted a spiritual understanding that departed from the Roman Catholic faith that I was brought up with. 

 

A spiritual awakening that led me to adopt Buddhism, a non-theistic but very humanist value system that resonates with who I really was - as a human being  like any one else - equal, yet different.

 

Here I cannot deny that my spiritual transformation, if you may, hasn’t changed the way I look at life and my attitude and behaviour  towards others. I can honestly say that even if I remain committed to the cause of disability activism, I see my struggle in the wider context of humanity. 

 

I seek to understand those who adamantly persist in their ignorance and try to approach their views  not from the position of an enemy but as a human being who is genuinely interested to know the seeds of their enmity.

 

I clearly understand that our struggle, as disabled people, cannot occur without the recognition that our struggle must be won through the cooperation with other groups of people who are treated unequally by an often unjust society.

 

Today, I have also come to an understanding that any struggle for equality cannot occur without the participation of, in our case, non-disabled people. At the same time, I firmly believe that, inasmuch the contribution of our non-disabled allies is fundamental, it is us - disabled people - who must be in the forefront to achieve true equality for all. I’m afraid that past history has shown that the tendency is that a few  non-disabled people have exploited this worthy cause to promote their own careers and reputation with disabled people ending as case studies in some  academic report or publication..   

 

Similarly, women can never achieve equality without cooperating with men, gay people and straight people must live together and so on and forth. having said that, while men in the case of women’s rights must be included in any discussion on the subject, it would be a farce if women, or any group whom the issue directly affects to be left out or given little say in the discussion and decision-making process.    

 

Of course, the truth remains that, as long as we live together on this planet, we all need each other - we are co-dependent. I believe that this fact of our co-dependence demands of us that we always attempt to reach the middle ground and, when possible, achieve a mutually agreed compromise.

 

NO INSPIRATION

I come to an end of this long entry. After this entry reaches you, I fear how you might interpret it and what idea of me you’ll construct In your mind. I would be rather disappointed with what I have written if you conclude that I am an inspiration… That I overcame my impairments…achieved success in spite of my impairments… blah blah.

 

Just understand this: it is my impairments who made me who I am today. There are times when I rather could walk or see as I did when I was younger and stronger but this is life not a a heartwarming or tear jerking Christmas tale. 

 

I am no inspiration but I decided to live and adapt to my differences. I am just answering the call of the survival instinct. It was that or social suicide and a life of wanting and loathing myself and others. I am here today because of the many people in my life who believed in me and, ironically, those who didn’t and who pushed me to challenge myself. I am not the  self-made person which one may think I am.  I am strong but can be weak. 

 

If it hadn’t been for the support of others whom I found on this journey, disabled and non-disabled people alike, I might not be here today.

 

It appears that there was a lot I needed to say. I look forward  to the future but I realise that it’s now that I need to change and take greater control and responsibility over my life. 

 

FUTURES AHEAD

 

I will continue to contribute to the local disability sector, yes, but using a different approach. I  also reassure my students reading for their Masters In Disability Studies that I will continue my lecturing part-time. At the same time, I wish to pursue new possibilities that that the present world offers. 

 

Indeed, I am already pursuing my childhood dream of dedicating my time and energy to writing. I have already invested much of my free time since I was a child in the craft of writing but, it appeared, that society doesn’t consider writing to be a proper job. Even if I was discouraged over the years of pursuing the art of writing, I never stopped writing when I could

 

I feel that the current situation and the fact that technology offers me the real possibility of getting my work out to the world, compels me to venture into the world of self-publishing. I may not be successful in my attempt to publish a few of my ePubs but I really have nothing to lose at this stage. I only want to express and share my thoughts and experiences with others around the world. Many might not listen. But, I hope few will.

 

On that note, I end with the haiku I started with in the beginning. For, although this entry will also end, it’s ending also signifies the beginning of a new one. Ten years are a long time in a person’s life, but they end too. I may mourn the death of this decade, but to resist change is suicide. I must be open to what the now offers. For, ultimately, the now is what defines and shapes our futures. These are the promises of ends: 

 

The Promise of  Ends

“Good and bad fruit die,

Joy follows sorrow. Life, death,,

Ends have beginnings.  “

 

With those verses, I leave you and wish to thank you for hanging on to the end of this long entry. As for me, I prepare to open a new chapter in my book of life where the future starts from now on!!  

 

More about my ePubs...

> Check out the Haiku Flow Series Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 and my profile and  other of my electronic publications at my eBooks page at PayHip:

https://payhip.com/gordongt

Friday, March 7, 2014

Refusing to Conform

In our childhoods, we learn to live in our society and in a world which follows a particular set of agreements. A world which, is often, reluctant to accept difference.  A world, where those who oppose its views of reality are excluded and segregated. A world that has  remained  fragmented with each community  dividing itself according to its value systems, rules and regulations. Persons were no longer human beings but they made themselves something much bigger than who they  really were. They also created an image of a god that reflected their ideals of perfection and goodness which projected their personal conception of utopia.

As a consequence, people who didn’t fit in or fell short of the right ways , and individuals   who went as far as challenging the status quo, risked being excluded, segregated, labelled or put away from the eyes of a society that had built a temple for its own self. The fate of those outside their  direct circles became the enemy - the great Satan, agents of the devil they  created in their own minds to rationalise their own evil without taking responsibility over  their own  lives.
But, then, this is not another world. This is our own. And the demons are here.

These demons we create ourselves to rationalise  the unjustifiable. actions that are happening in our own age. Actions we accept because we think that they  will shield us from the inevitable changes that are taking place around us. In our vanity we lose our humanity to all that which appears to be dangerous and we try to keep people who challenge our sense of self as far as we can. Even destroying their spirits if we can.     

Thus, those who are different than us suddenly become a threat that we must control and eliminate or, at least, “normalise”. Thus,  we segregate them, exclude them, resent them, hate them, detain them, humiliate them, defile them, dehumanise them, even murder them.  If not, we stripped them of their human dignity and treat them as non-humans. As persons who are abhorrent  to nature and to human nature. We smother their freedom, their liberty to express who they really are. 

Indeed, we treat them with contempt - not compassion. And, at times,   when we think we are performing   some act of great generosity, we often are feeding our sense of superiority and self-righteousness. When , indeed, we should reach out to the other person who may be in need as an equal - just another human being facing the same joys and sorrows of life that will end some day. To recognise  that deep insider, we both remain   the same two vulnerable human beings.

Yet, pride  also convinces us that the other is a threat to our own identities, to our own culture and ways of life. Pride works on our deepest fears that if we show compassion and accept those who we perceive as different than us, we may be changed into someone else. We might also fear that in speaking against the oppression of others, we may discover that we are also one of them. And, that our hate and resentment was actually coming from our own inadequacies and doubts about our own identities.

But many also resort to minding their own business and hoping that the nightmare will disappear on its own. They retreat in a cowardly silence as they perceive injustice around them but still  choose to pretend nothing is taking place.

This silence, not borne out of wisdom, but out of indifference and apathy. A silence, not borne out of compassion, but one borne out of pride and self-righteousness. A silence of inflated self-pride that crushes the souls of those who challenge its authority. Those who are happy living alternative ways. Those who see things differently. Those who speak from the mind and heart.

Those who really want to listen and to  understand. Those who genuinely seek to be compassionate and authentic to who they are. Those who are crushed by the forces of hegemony and an imposed normality, materialism, consumerism and hedonism.

We are, thus, left out from society. Not because we are different but because society thinks we are wrong in so many ways. We are the odd ones because we are not accounted for. We are thought to be of less value - like an inferior product. 

Even if  it’s hard, we must keep together. Even if it means we are alone. We owe it to ourselves to be authentic. To be true to our beings.

We must refuse to conform!

I know, I am one.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Carnival of Life - The Tragedy

Here in Malta and in other parts of the world, people are celebrating carnival. Many claim that they enjoy this feast as It provides them the opportunity to let off stress and act in foolish ways - or get a laugh at the expense of others. Sadly, perhaps, I never liked carnival - no matter the hype.

 

I note that the fact that I am physically different than the norm makes me feel uneasy when I think that my walk, as a child, would be mistaken for a sketch from that Monty Python sketch ”Ministry of Silly Walks - which I admit is hilarious. Yet, it’s not that much of a joke if the joke is on you. And, that is perhaps carnival is upsetting.

 

For while it temporarily subverse the social order, it also permts those in authority to keep their power - not so different than the way ancient Rome organised large-scale entertainment to keep the people happy and their mouth full with food and wine. Of course, it’s good to have a rest from life and not take life or yourself too seriously. A thing that you’ll probably thinking about me right now.

 

However, as I try to keep away from the carnival and all the follies that it stands for, I cant help thinking that carnival is like life…

 

Don’t we pretend to be someone else to look good or to score social points or get a better career?

 

Don’t we deceive others, at times, to get what we want or to flee from trouble or of taking responsibility over our own actions?

 

Does our society encourage us to conform to its values and likes and, thus, smothering our freedom to be ourselves?

 

Are not the new distractions of social media encouraging us to become more impulsive in our words and actions?

 

Are they encouraging us to act in ways to please others and gain attention - whether it’s positive or negative?

Have  the masks we are encouraged to wear become so part of how we present ourselves to  the world that we forgot who we are?

Then again, do we know who we are? Or we even haven’t taken the time to ask and reflect about our life and about who we are?

Are we strangers to our own selves?

 

 

The last question may be the hardest one to answer. The fact that we owe it to ourselves to know who we really are and what we believe in. Even if we may be unable to do much for others, we would have taken the first step and started removing our mask and discover our authentic beings.

 

It’s then, and only then, when we remove the trappings of a pride that is fearful of

discovering the value of others and the beauty of being human ...

 

with all our  limitations... -

with all our  strengths...

 

with all our compassion...

 

Our potential to make a positive change to the world and to the every day of others who we may never know. 



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